Archive for March, 2012
A group of tenants at CastleBraid are engaged in an ongoing dispute with management over a series of violations regarding rent stabilization, building services, gas surcharges, and tenant harassment. Management has responded to these concerns with a letter, and this rebuttal serves as the tenant group’s response. We look forward to more communication with management and The Board about these issues.
Here is a link to all Rent Stabilization Codes.
9 NYCRR § 2522.10 states a Landlord may collect surcharges for a submetered utility service.
- Submetering is explained as: the individual metering of utilities at an apartment building where landlords may install individual meters to measure energy usage per household and then bill tenants according to their household usage.
- Shared metering is defined as: any utility meter billed under National Grid’s residential rate that measures gas and/or electricity used both inside and outside a tenant’s dwelling and that is not under the tenant’s exclusive use and control. (Shared metering is illegal in New York)
- Our lease rider says: There is no individual gas meter for each apartment therefore Tenant hereby agrees to pay as additional rent a flat monthly rate for heat and/or hot water cost.
We’ve spoken with a NYSERDA rep who said he agrees ours is a shared meter condition. The DHCR doesn’t know.
Now let’s take a look at what we’re actually being charged. In our calls to National Grid we were given two figures for CastleBraid’s annual usage budget last year. CB has two gas accounts with National Grid. The annual usage amounts for those accounts were $18,000 for CB’s cooking fuel account and $72,000 for CB’s heating account.
On average, each unit pays $916 in gas surcharges per year. The average of the three possible surcharge amounts for 8 winter months ($110, $95, $75) is $93. The average of the three possible surcharge amounts for 4 summer months ($50, $45, $35) is $43. CB has 144 units. This puts the total yearly sum for gas surcharges at $131,904. Because cooking fuel is included in our rent, this leaves a yearly surcharge excess of $59,904. Even with cooking fuel included, there is still over $41,000 in unaccounted surcharges. Why? That’s a significant amount of cash.
(If you’d like to see the video of our call to the National Grid representative, ask on the FB group)
Solution: Show us CastleBraid’s National Grid bills for the last 2 years. If we’ve been overcharged, reimburse us. Going forward, lower the surcharge.
The answer given by The Board is unsatisfactory. There are over a dozen people who have been asking for their deposits since moving and have yet to hear back from CB. The Board has not explained the practice of charging international tenants 6 months rent in security deposits, the practice of requiring some tenants to pay a “last month’s” rent on top of their security deposit, or the absence of bank details for security deposits given (security deposits must be placed in an interest bearing account; the account information must be given to the tenant).
Solution: Stop asking for more than one month’s rent in security/move-in charges. Return the 5 extra months of security deposits to international tenants with interest accrued. Provide bank details for security deposits. Respond to people who have been emailing/calling about their security deposits. If claiming damages beyond normal wear and tear have occurred, provide proof along with an itemized bill for the cost of repairs.
SERVICES AND AMENITIES:
The owner of a stabilized building is required to provide and maintain all services furnished at the time of stabilization. Upon stabilization, CastleBraid filled out the Initial Building Services Registration with the DHCR. These services are described as “Building Wide Services provided by building owner to all tenants in building and included in rent.” According to the DHCR, the following building-wide services were checked off on CastleBraid’s Building Services form, are included in rent, and are required to be maintained and provided:
Electricity, Cooking Fuel, Laundry Room, Trash Disposal/Removal, Maintenance Services, Master TV Antenna, Recreational Facilities, Intercom, Bell & Buzzer System, Front Desk/Secretarial, and Automatic Elevator.
The riders drawn up by management to be signed by tenants say:
“there is absolutely no commitment from Castlebraid LLC that [security/front desk person] will continue for any length of time if at all…Landlord may at anytime interrupt or terminate [internet and cable] service at any time without notice…these amenities are NOT in any way part of the lease agreement or contractual obligation of the Landlord. Therefore Landlord may discontinue any or all of the facilities at any time…”
These riders are in direct contradiction to, and in violation of, the Initial Building Services Registration filled out by CB. CB is required to maintain these services, despite the riders tenants have signed. All services filed by management are included in rent. If such services decrease in quality or are no longer being provided, it is honest and fair that our rent should be decreased.
Solution: Fix the amenities that have since decreased in quality or have been removed. Alternatively, lower our rent to reflect these decreases accordingly. Side note: Being the group of tenants who most recently sought to re-open the Library through volunteerism, we are very comfortable claiming CB’s unusable internet as the defining obstacle blocking our attempt.
RENEWAL vs VACANCY LEASE:
The law is explicitly clear on renewals. We must receive them, rent cannot be raised without them, and they must be on the same terms as the expiring lease. Giving tenants a new vacancy lease each year denies tenants their rights. Raising rent without renewals denies tenants their rights. Adding new riders that change the original agreement denies tenants their rights.
We would like to offer the response one of our organizers received from management after asking for a proper, corrected renewal form. (for a screenshot of this exchange, ask on the FB group)
“IMPORTANT NOTE: BASED ON OUR LEGAL ADVISOR’S GUIDANCE, WE ARE NOT REQUIRED TO OFFER THE LEASE RENEWAL, DUE TO THE FACT THAT [your previous roommate] CLEARLY INFORMED US THAT HE IS NOT RENEWING THE LEASE.This offer is only in an unlikely event that we’re required to do so.The lease renewal offer is to serve as an overabundance of caution.
Our only offer to you is the vacancy lease we’ve hand-delivered to you and [new roommate] on Monday, November 14, 2011.”
There is nothing honest about this response. Regardless of whether one roommate is leaving, tenants must be given a renewal form no less than 90 days before their lease expires. Tenants have 60 days to review and sign the renewal before returning it to management. Management then has 30 days to sign the renewal before delivering a copy to the tenant. Rent may only be raised after this 90 day period. If a renewal form is not given on time, tenants still have 90 days from the date they are given a renewal until the date a rent increase starts. They should not be made to sign new riders that change the original agreement each year.
Solution: Stay on top of renewals. Give them in a timely manner. Do not increase rent until these forms have been signed and returned to the tenants. Do not add new riders to renewals and do not push tenants to return the renewals before the legally required time-frame.
The Board has not explained why the following forms, required by law to be provided to tenants, have been omitted from our leases for the last 3 years:
- Initial Apartment Registration
- Annual Apartment Registration
- Rent Stabilized Lease Rider
- 421-a Lease Rider
- A copy of the building’s Initial Building Services Registration has never been displayed in the lobby
These documents, along with renewal forms, inform tenants of their rights and are important for rent overcharge records. It is neither honest, nor fair, to omit these documents.
Furthermore, Section 2528.4 states no increase in rent may be collected until registrations have been filed. Based on the extremely late filing dates found on tenant’s DHCR rental histories (registrations for lease terms beginning in 2009 were not filed until 1/31/2011, terms for 2010 were not filed until 11/18/2011) the rent increases CB has imposed during these periods are invalid.
Solution: Since we are entering year three of “clerical errors” made in regard to the RS laws The Board signed up to be a part of, perhaps it’s time for more office staff. We cannot expect Esther to wade through all this bureaucratic red tape by herself and especially not in a 16 hour work week.
The Board is right, 421-a programs are very complicated. Changes to the 421-a law were made in 2007 and enacted the following year. Due to the sheer volume of other 421-a violations within CB, we feel it necessary to look in to this since it would be one of the most significant.
GEA/Geographical Exclusion Areas are zones of the city where developers seeking to use the 421-a program are required to meet affordable housing. These zones were expanded once in 2006 and again in the 2007. Due to a loophole depending on very specific circumstances, however, some buildings can reap tax benefits but don’t have to meet the GEA affordability requirements. Click here for further reading on the loophole. The following is what we can say about CB and the 421-a program, though we are still missing certain details and do not have a final answer:
CastleBraid has rested within the GEA zone since 2006. CB’s 421-a benefit technically began in 2010 (though stabilization applied retroactively to tenants who moved in before that time) for an extended 25 year period. Developments in the GEA zone are required to provide affordable housing in exchange for receiving 421-a tax benefits.
After 6/30/08, the affordability requirements for a building to receive 421-a benefits in the GEA zone are:
1) If [building] construction is carried out with substantial governmental assistance provided pursuant to a program for the development of affordable housing, at least 20% of the units in the multiple dwelling must meet one of the following requirements:
– initial and subsequent rentals upon vacancy in multiple dwellings with 25 units or less must be affordable at or below 120% of AMI or;
– initial and subsequent rentals upon vacancy in multiple dwellings with more than 25 units must be affordable at or below120% of AMI and cannot exceed an average of 90% of AMI or;
– homeownership units at initial sale must be affordable at or below 125% of AMI.
2) If no substantial governmental assistance is utilized, at least 20% of the units in the multiple dwelling must at initial rental or sale and at all subsequent rentals upon vacancy be affordable at or below 60% of AMI.
ISSUES IN NEED OF COMMENT:
Favoritism: Striking deals with certain tenants while denying the same deals to others (ie. deducting the cost of internet from one unit’s rent and not others; allowing one type of flyer but not another; responding to concerns one way in private and another way in public.)
Office Hours: 10am-2pm Monday-Thursday coupled with the new “by appointment only” rule has made communication with the office extremely difficult.
Demanding a Personal Check for Rent: This is not legal.
Harassment: The Board has responded to tenants inquiring about their rights by raising their rent by $1000, threatening to sue them, ceasing to give them monthly invoices and making overnight rule changes to impede on their lawful rights. It is deeply insulting to claim honest dealings while simultaneously engaging in retaliatory acts of harassment. When the gap between words and actions becomes this wide, something is wrong. If The Board is of the opinion that harassing tenants exercising their rights is fair and honest, please openly defend those actions. Please publicly explain why The Board, and those acting on its behalf, denied our requests to resolve these issues with the building in November of 2011 and chose retaliation over cooperation.
We pride ourselves in being honest and sincere in all our dealings. We were notified about allegations against us that have been months in planning.
It is not our intention to give confusing legal discourses, we will therefore try to be concise and to the point as much as possible. The following is just a general overview of our responses. Please feel free to write to helpdesk about any detailed specific questions. We will just try to respond in an accurate, respectful, and honest manner to these allegations.
HEAT AND HOT WATER CHARGES
Here’s what we wrote to a tenant(s) in regards to the heat and hot water charge.
It is perfectly legal to have an additional flat fee charge (over and above your base rent) for heat/hot water in a lease agreement. The code law being bandied around by some is in no way relevant to an additional flat charge for heat and hot water. It is referring to a case where a tenant has agreed to pay for his/her own gas meter and then found out that this meter was, unbeknownst to him/her, supplying gas for other unit/s. In that case the tenant was paying out of pocket for something that he/she has obviously never agreed upon. Hence it is not a rent stabilization law but rather a law governing any type of building. The law is protecting a tenant of paying out of pocket for something that is typically difficult for a tenant to detect. The law has made the Landlord responsible for this defect in the gas lines and/or gas meter, for it is the landlord that should know how the meter operates and to which apartment it supplies gas.
The above has ABSOLUTELY NO BEARING AT ALL to our fully legitimate agreed upon flat fee. You have not been mistakenly paying for someone else’s metered gas supply. Neither you nor anyone else is paying metered gas at all. You are simply paying Castle Braid a set amount for heat and hot water as additional rent, as per what was very clearly spelled out in your lease agreement. No matter how much heat and hot water you use, you will not be paying any more or any less than this flat fee. That is the very concept of a flat fee.
[Per a very rough perusal on the web, our flat fee is seemingly less than the average heat and hot water bill you would be paying in NYC for the same size apartment on a yearly basis. That is even for people who are very conscious about their gas consumption due to them paying metered gas, not a flat fee.]
In 2008 Rand Engineering did an energy cost projection report for this building. Heat and hot water cost for all apartments was projected at $189,000. Our heat/hot water flat fee would not even cover this cost. Wanting to keep the flat fee low, amongst other considerations, we did not go for the full projected cost.
Rest assured that no one here would agree to pay one dollar more than their flat fee if the energy cost is or will be more. Not even for a moment will anyone entertain sharing that cost difference. It truly will be wrong of us to even ask for that, due to our flat fee agreement. Yet some individuals here are all up in arms that they want to share in the difference if the cost is purportedly less. A flat fee stays the same no matter which way the cost is.
In sum; the reasonable heat/hot water charge has been very prominently written out in a separate rider. It was not tucked away in some obscure paragraph in small print etc. Everyone signing the lease was fully aware that there’s a flat fee for heat and hot water. It clearly spells out the costs for winter/summer.
We absolutely give back full security deposits in the vast majority of the cases. Obviously there are some times where there are some outstanding balances or damages to the apt which we point out to the resident. The tenant is then given a clear explanation for any deduction. There’s an email [paper] trail for any back-and-forth between management and a tenant in regards to a deduction. Any former resident who has a gripe about not receiving their full security deposit should give us permission to publicize our email exchange.
RENT STABILIZATION ISSUES;
Please be aware that rent stabilization laws are complicated and at times murky. Any honest attorney will tell you so. Even judges will at times come to differing conclusions as is evident from case law. We are writing this based on our legal counsel and/or our honest reading of the code. As with any complex issue, reading snippets of the code here and there does not make one an expert on these laws and doesn’t paint an accurate picture.
Everyone is entitled to disagree and to take every single gripe to court, although we surely don’t advocate that kind of behavior, especially if it’s in the nature of honest mistakes. Either way, we can still be respectful and decent even in our disagreements.
The allegations in regards to rent stabilization guidelines are either insignificant or outright inaccurate. Obviously we agree that however insignificant the allegation, we should have been absolutely meticulous about every single checkbox on every single paper filed. Although the DHCR allows for honest insignificant amendments on our filings, it can cause confusion to someone who looks into every single paper we ever filed.
CastleBraid is absolutely not required to set aside 20% for low income housing. This allegation is outright bogus. Can it really be that we wouldn’t be required to constantly file documentation to verify who are the low income people living here?
RENEWAL FORM, VS. FULL LEASE DOCS;
After your first rent stabilized lease is up we are supposed to send you a simple one page renewal form. It basically reinstates your initial lease for another year or two. (With the NYC approved increase).
In many case we gave a complete new rent stabilized lease instead of renewals. It may have been a clerical error on our part. Or it may be the right document because our first lease was not a rent stabilized one due to us not being rent stabilized at that point yet.
The important thing to be aware is that giving a renewal form vs. giving a completely new lease is a distinction without a difference. The renewal form simply reinstates a rent stabilized lease, and a full rent stabilized lease also does the same.
Trying to invalidate the increase in the lease, based on this possible clerical error [renewal from vs. full rent stabilized lease form] is in our opinion not really fair, and to the best of our knowledge, won’t really work. Yet it’s within everyone’s right to give it a shot.
We did put in a few minor language changes in the rider to simply clarify some wordings. We might have been better off to leave all the riders intact and not to cause undue confusion about this minor clarification.
Our vision was and is to make Castle Braid a unique experience. We therefore are not shy from adding many different feature and amenities that are not seen ANYWHERE ELSE. Being a trailblazer can be risky. Sometimes a particular amenity might just now work out for various reasons. We therefore put a clause in the rider for everyone to see that all the amenities are NOT part of the rental agreement etc. Everyone who signed it knew what they are signing.
Some critics argue that due to us being rent stabilized it became a required service so that the rider is irrelevant. We have very legitimate reasons to disagree. To point out just one of our reasons; Amenities added all along the course of the life of the building do NOT become part of the required service.
Yet even in the event we might be wrong, in the event that the intricacies of the rent stabilization laws got the better of us, it would be an honest mistake on our part, we were simply trying to be honest and forthright in clearly writing what we felt is the correct and honest position.
Around a year ago when we realized that the internet is causing too much problems we added a rider to the leases of all new tenants that we are having extreme hardship with internet and cable and there’s a very strong possibility that we will stop the service completely. The clear wording in large print surely apprises any new tenant about our internet situation.
It should be pointed out that according to our log, most of the time the bandwidth speed we are providing to each apartment is a T1 level 1.5mg. Yet at peak time it could be less. In order that no one should use a disproportionate amount of bandwidth we capped each apt to T1 speed. Using more than one computer in your apartment at the same time will automatically cut the speed in half.
There were volunteer librarians in the library for months and months with hardly a soul entering. Obviously it has discouraged the volunteers. Internet speed has no relation to this. Entering or checking out a book uses an insignificant amount of bandwidth.
Yes, we did have a vision of constantly adding more great stuff to this wonderful community and we did so for a long while. Constantly pushing for new amenities or fun events or added features on our website. Unfortunately, due to the vibe of litigation etc. our attorneys have advised us to hold off from adding anything at this point.
If we as much as start providing plastic bags for dog poop up in the dog park we will be subject to some creative DHCR complaints about us not refilling it quickly enough, and that it is a ‘required service’.
We will point out again that it is surely within your right to litigate every supposed infraction on our part. Yet it would be nice if we just sit down with a group of reasonable residents and work out a reasonable solution.
RULES AND GUIDELINES
We are putting in tremendous effort to set a certain vibe and feel when entering the building. It is our passionate opinion that the artwork in the lobby, courtyard, rooftop dog-park, and computer lab etc. make for a unique and almost spiritually peaceful experience the very minute you enter the building. Our commitment to this ideal doesn’t waver.
Just last year we did a major overhaul in the courtyard design and art furnishing not looking at expense and effort. We are right now planning the front façade. Rules and guidelines in line with the peaceful, positivity and fun environment is reasonable and fair.
When residents feel that certain events or tactics make them feel uncomfortable we will try to arrange those events in a more appropriate area. The same goes to flyers and posters.
If there are any additional reasonable complaints that you feel have not been addressed, please feel free to write us in HelpDesk and we will try to give you an honest and respectful response, and/or correct any error on our part as well.
We are proud to point out that we have gotten very many accolades from residents on the efficiency of our response time on HelpDesk and our general level of commitment to the upkeep of this wonderful community. As building managements go, that is something to be very proud of.
Our goal is to make your living here at Castle Braid a wonderful and cherished experience.
We do not intend to hurt, malign, or demonize anyone, even our most vociferous critics. We ask that this courtesy be extended to us as well.
If you are actually happy with our management and services we will be extremely grateful if you kindly drop us a note.
Despite management’s attempts to block us, we’ve just completed our third successful night collecting signatures and informing tenant’s of their rights! So far we have 66 names and 1/3 of the units in the building on-board! We may have some more exciting news in the next few days as well.. stay tuned.
In our first night of tabling in the lobby we’ve already collected 30+ signatures for one of our DHCR forms! Tonight (Tuesday March 13th) Assemblyman Lopez’s legislative assistant will be joining us in the building if you have any questions you’d like to ask him. Don’t forget to bring a copy of your lease (we can make a copy for you as well) and all of your billing history if you’ve bought your own internet service with Clear or Optimum.
We are so excited by the enthusiasm of the CB community to take positive, proactive steps forward. If you are worried about management retaliation, please know we all have the right to organize and meet in the lobby. New York Real Property Law Section 230.
1. No landlord shall interfere with the right of a tenant to form, join or participate in the lawful activities of any group, committee or other organization formed to protect the rights of tenants; nor shall any landlord harass, punish, penalize, diminish, or withhold any right, benefit or privilege of a tenant under his tenancy for exercising such right. 2. Tenants' groups, committees or other tenants' organizations shall have the right to meet without being required to pay a fee in any location on the premises including a community or social room where use is normally subject to a fee which is devoted to the common use of all tenants in a peaceful manner, at reasonable hours and without obstructing access to the premises or facilities. No landlord shall deny such right.
See you downstairs!
After several months of planning, and with Assemblyman Vito Lopez on our side, we are ready to begin filing complaints with the DHCR! We’ll be in the lobby Monday March 12th through Sunday March 18th (6PM-8PM on weekdays and 12PM-4PM on the weekend) to help you with this process. Please bring a copy of your current lease!
To learn more about violations to tenant’s rights, click on the “About Us” tab above, and be sure to request to join our “CastleBraid Tenants” group on facebook if you haven’t already!
A re-post of the flyer we slid under doors several weeks ago. Here is some additional information not included in the flyer:
Management cannot demand a specific form of payment for rent (the recent demand for personal checks only is not legal)
Before signing a lease requiring payment of individual heating and cooling bills, prospective tenants are entitled to receive from the landlord, a complete set or summary of the past two years’ bills.