On Tuesday afternoon, City Councilman Dan Garodnick called on Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village landlord Tishman Speyer to pay the legal fees of tenants who are proven to be legitimately occupying rent-stabilized apartments in the complex after contesting non-lease renewal notices from the landlord.
Under the proposal, which was endorsed by Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer and State Senator Tom Duane at a press conference, Tishman would also agree to a set of ground rules for attempting to evict tenants for allegedly breaking rent-stabilization rules.
“Over the last two years, we have seen an aggressive pursuit of tenants by Tishman Speyer, claiming that people are not using their apartments as their primary residence,” Mr. Garodnick told The Observer before the press conference in front of Stuyvesant Town, echoing accounts from tenants, their advocates, and the other electeds who spoke. “Under Tishman Speyer’s own numbers there are more unsubstantiated cases than there are successful ones, so it is clear that they are casting their net too widely, and that they are bringing perfectly legal tenants into their dragnet.”
Mr. Garodnick, himself a Peter Cooper Village resident, said his neighbors have had to spend thousands of dollars on legal fees contesting notices from Tishman Speyer falsely accusing them of offenses like voting outside New York City, having an out of state phone number or drivers license, and of owning property elsewhere.
“There is no excuse for Tishman Speyer, with all their lawyers, to continue bringing frivolous cases that are easily refuted by publicly available information,” he told reporters and more than a dozen tenants, prompting one woman to cheer “Atta-boy Danny!”
“When Tishman drops a case,” Mr. Garodnick said, “they should drop a check in the mail.”
The guidelines also ask that Tishman put a moratorium on legal notices until they publicly explain their standards and how they are going to avoid these mistakes in the future; only send notices to tenants suspected of not living full-time in a rent-stabilized apartment after first giving them an opportunity to explain their situation; compensate tenants who do not hire a lawyer when they are challenged and later have their leases renewed with a free month of rent; and not challenge tenants who have proven legitimate occupancy when their leases are up for renewal if the facts remain the same.
It did not seem likely that Tishman Speyer would adopt the guidelines as of late Tuesday evening. A spokesman did say that 87 percent of residents at Stuy Town and Cooper Village have had their leases renewed “without question” since Tishman took over the complexes in 2006.
Mr. Garodnick did not have the numbers of how many tenants had received notices or of who has been evicted after their occupancy is challenged.
Of the remaining 13 percent who have been asked by Tishman to demonstrate that the complexes are their primary residence, roughly half have turned out to be illegal, a Tishman Speyer spokesman wrote in an e-mail responding to our request for comment.
“To just name two, we found a TV anchor living in Kalamazoo who had a rent-stabilized apartment at Stuy Town and a full-time resident of the Upper East Side who leased his Stuy Town apartment for profit,” the e-mail said. “We feel it is unfair for those people to abuse the system and do not support a culture that encourages this.”
There are certainly those who have been targeted for eviction unsuccessfully, just as there are surely those who have been justly evicted. One 17-year Cooper Village tenant at the press conference who did not want her name used in this story said she was given a lease non-renewal notice almost immediately after Tishman Speyer acquired the complexes from Met Life for $5.4 billion.
“[It] put me on the edge for several months,” said the elderly woman, who shares her tenancy on her $1,200 apartment with her brother. “They said I lived in Florida, which I do not; and I had to pay a lot of money for a lawyer, which I’m very upset about.”
Though Tishman eventually agreed to renew her lease, her relief was tempered by the knowledge that the same thing might happen every two years when it comes up for renewal. “I find it stressful because you don’t know what they’ll come up with next. The lawyers are not very nice people.”