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.