Tenants Win, Again, in Stuy Town Rent Case

bletwin  4 Tenants Win, Again, in Stuy Town Rent CaseIn case there was any doubt, it’s going to be a mess to legally untangle rent issues at Stuyvesant Town.

Today, a judge handed a victory to market-rate tenants at Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village by ruling against prior property owner MetLife. The ruling—part of the same ongoing lawsuit that last year forced the re-regulation of thousands of market-rate apartments at the property—denied a bid by MetLife to block the retroactive application of the newly-interpreted rent laws. In English: MetLife didn’t think market-rate tenants, whose apartments were re-regulated, should have been able to collect overcharges. Tenants contend they should be able to get back, in the form of a check, the difference between the rents they paid and the stabilized rents they should have been paying.

Justice Richard B. Lowe III said he found MetLife’s arguments “unpersuasive.”

“The Decision should be accorded full retroactive effect,” he wrote.

Should the tenants proceed with their suit against the owners, this could go on for a while. The lawsuit was initially filed in spring 2007 by a set of market-rate tenants, was denied by Mr. Lowe at the time, made its way up to the state’s top court, and now has been sent back to Mr. Lowe.

A spokesman for MetLife said the firm is “studying the opinion in order to determine our next steps.”

Councilman Dan Garodnick, the leading voice for tenants on this fight and a Peter Cooper resident, called the legal decision a “huge win for tenants.”

All of this creates a fair amount of uncertainty, both for the current owners and for other landlords with similar apartments (which received a tax benefit known as J-51).

Those landlords, of course, would rather have more certainty, and many have called for new legislation to change the law in one way or another. Just how to do that is tricky politics, however, as tenant advocates and landlords (both of whom have their own backers in Albany) have differing ideas on how to write legislation.

ebrown@observer.com 

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