The Legal Aid Society announced a major tenant victory today on a housing case in New York State Appellate Court that will preserve 120 rent stabilized apartments for low-income tenants on Manhattan’s Upper West Side.
This action was initially brought in 2016 against an unscrupulous landlord and sought a determination that this property 435 Central Park West was subject to the Rent Stabilization Law (RSL). A lower court ruled with plaintiff and New York’s Appellate Division upheld that the property is subject to rent stabilization.
After years of onerous rent increases of 7.5 percent annually, residents at the development were struggling to make ends meet, putting them at risk of losing their homes that some have lived in since 1971. The landlord acknowledged the enormous displacement in their legal brief, citing that “nearly 90 of the 120 apartments at Park Front have turned over since the year 2000.” The plaintiffs represent some of the last remaining long term tenants, and had we not won this decision they would no longer be able to afford the increasing rents.
The tenants sought assistance from The Legal Aid Society, who successfully argued that the building is subject to the RSL, and, that the landlord and its predecessors failed to register the building in compliance with the RSL. The Court’s finding that the owners annually imposed rent increases (here 7.5% per year) substantially in excess of the increases permitted by the RSL, will allow The Legal Aid Society to establish that the tenants were significantly overcharged and entitled, not only to a reduction in their monthly rent and refund of overpaid rents, but also potentially to treble damages.
Government housing regulators including the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and New York State’s Department of Home and Community Renewal (DHCR) failed to protect these tenants and provide necessary oversight allowing the landlord to exploit loopholes year-after-year to illegally increase rents.
This landlord has a troublesome track record on tenant issues, including refusing to accept Section 8 program funds from a prior Legal Aid client, in blatant violation of local laws banning income discrimination.
“Landlords who abuse loopholes in the law to circumvent rent stabilization protections are a key part of the affordable housing crisis in NYC. The court’s decision that 435 Central Park West is subject to rent stabilization is a tremendous victory for our clients and all New Yorkers. This win reflects the perseverance of our clients who did not give up, and it is a reminder to all tenants of how important organizing and collective action is. The Legal Aid Society is here to enforce tenants rights and support tenants in their fight against gentrification and displacement,” said Jason Wu, Staff Attorney at the Harlem Community Law Office with The Legal Aid Society.
“Finally, after years of night sweats and waking up at the middle of the night not knowing how long I will be able to continue paying such a high rent. This illegal rent hike put my family and neighbors through so much unnecessary distress. And as 36 year resident, I come to find out how the landlord has been overcharging seniors and long term tenants like me for decades, illegally. I am beyond grateful the court found our building is subject to rent stabilization, and I’m forever thankful of our attorneys, Jason Wu of The Legal Aid Society and Stuart Cobert. They finally put an end to the landlord’s abusive tactics and take advantage of low income and senior citizen tenants. My neighbors, my friends, my family and I will finally no longer have to sleep in fear of becoming homeless. This great burden has been uplifted by the Court’s decision,” said Tenant Maria A. Cruz.
“For years, our landlord was illegally increasing the rent for me and my neighbors and after so much time, you begin to lose hope of ever finding a solution. I have been living with the constant fear that I would one day, unfairly, lose my home and that fear had me paralyzed in so many ways. The court's decision validates what the tenants have been fighting for for so long and restores my faith in honest and honorable people doing what is right. I am beyond relieved and happy knowing that I now have the security of a home and to me, that's everything,” said Tenant Hiram Chapman.
“Without Legal Aid the tenants of 435 Central Park West would never have scored this victory. This victory for us, is a model victory for all New York tenants facing skyrocketing rent charges from landlords who willfully misinterpret and obfuscate the law,” said Tenant Joy Harris.
“The year 2000 brought some devastating news to the tenants at 435 CPW. HUD and the landlord had entered into a Use Agreement that raised annual rents by 7-1/2 percent annually. As a senior citizen, living on my limited income, the rent would soon be unaffordable for me. Fear of losing our homes drove us to seek some help among legal authorities. Everyone we asked responded negatively. Our opponent was too powerful. Finally, in the spring of 2016, we found Legal Aid, whose attorneys gave us hope. It was only after their joining our fight against the abuses we had endured that our future looked brighter. Legal Aid was victorious in our case, and now I no longer fear losing the home I have lived in for the past 40 years. Legal Aid through their vigilance and belief in our cause made that possible. I will be 90 years old soon and this victory is the best birthday present I ever had,” said Tenant Bjorg L. Jeanpierre.