Tuesday, July 08, 2008

DON’T MANSION IT. PUSHING TENANTS AROUND

UP FRONT News March 29, 2007
Published by Tom Weiss
Editorial Advisor: Willard Whittingham
“The paper that can’t be bought and can’t be sold.” http://www.tomsupfrontnews.blogspot.com/

DON’T MANSION IT. PUSHING TENANTS AROUND

While I support the efforts of the rent stabilized tenants at 47 East 3rd Street in Manhattan facing eviction by a landlord who wants to convert the building into a mansion for his family, I wonder about their legal strategy. An Appellate Court unanimously ruled that there is nothing in the rent stabilization law that requires a landlord seeking to displace tenants to move in his own family to obtain prior approval from the New York State Division of Housing and Community Renewal. Unless the judges missed something, the ruling suggests that the DHCR-based strategy was faulty.

What is really faulty are laws that inadequately protect tenants from greedy landlords. And since among the professions, landlords and developers (with some exceptions) have very high rates of greediness, the laws need to be strengthened. It seems that a landlord claiming a very, very extended family can displace a multiple dwelling full of rent stabilized tenants for that clan. As far as I am concerned, a law that permits this kind of thing is an invitation to greed and abuse. At a recent community meeting, an aide to State Senator Tom Duane told me that legislation is being developed. He will need Republican support.

The reality is that existing rent protection laws favor landlords. Landlords are in it for one reason, profit. Profits are made through rent increases, cost cutting, and displacement encouragement. As long as landlords do not have to open their book in order to get rent increases, the system is biased. Cooking the books is a way of life for landlords. I know, having been hounded by a rent gouger, greed merchant and political insider loft-lord named Thomas Berger for 16 years.

For many years late in the last millennium, former State Senator John Flynn (R.-Yonkers) and former State Assemblyman John Dearie (D.-Bx) introduced the Flynn-Dearie Rent Protection Act, which, had it been enacted, would have made opening landlord books into the law. The legislation was repeatedly killed by the combination of the real estate lobby, upstate Republican indifference and sellout artist tenant “advocate” Mike McKee. McKee, a master at blending militant “left” rhetoric and simultaneously helping the landlords, argued that “opening the books” for state auditing was “too cumbersome.” McKee and his sellout pal Chuck Delaney who ran the Lower Manhattan Loft Tenants, also so delayed and weakened a loft bill that the gentrification of neighborhoods like SoHo, NoHo, Tribeca, and DUMBO was accomplished somewhat incrementally.

Delaney was also involved in an important case in which the tenants pursued a dubious legal strategy. Loft tenant Mario Pikus argued that since his landlord, Thomas Berger pal eli Lipkis, did not have a residential Certificate of Occupancy, he did not have to pay rent. That argument suggests that a landlord potentially pauperize himself by investing the necessary money in order to render the building “up to code” for the “C of O.” While Pikus and Delaney railed against the landlord at LMLT meetings, the case went to New York’s highest court, The Court of Appeals, and Pikus wound up moving to California, while Delaney remained in his very, very affordable Pearl Street loft and the lawyers presumably made a lot of money.

In a huge city with so many tenants, it is encouraging that there are activists who are ready to organize independently of people like Mike McKee. Maybe it will finally be possible to enact laws that will truly protect people like those at 47 East 3rd Street.
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