NY renters being spied on


Summary

The complaints concern one of the country’s largest apartment complexes, the twin developments of Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village, comprising 110 buildings in a campus-like East Side setting.

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It is also one of the city’s largest stocks of rent-stabilised housing.

Tenants lucky enough to hold a lease on one of its 8,000 regulated units pay a fraction of the market rate. The savings allow a lifestyle unavailable to many middle-class New Yorkers.

Landlords have two ways to legally hike the rent more than a token amount annually: Persuade tenants to leave, or prove they live elsewhere.

Tenants say the global real-estate firm Tishman Speyer, which bought the complex last year for $US5.4 billion ($A6.53 billion), is engaged in a campaign to do both.

Over the past few months, hundreds of tenants say they received non-renewal notices on their leases over suspicions that they reside elsewhere for at least 183 days a year.

Private eyes

The charges are based on evidence apparently culled by private investigators, from public records, property deeds, and credit applications databases. Leaseholders were stunned by the scope of the information.

“It’s like they’re spying on us!” said Jeanette Besosa, who works at the United Nations.

Ms Besosa was accused of keeping residences in Florida, Pennsylvania and Manhattan’s Washington Heights neighbourhood.

She’s now assembling a thick binder of records demonstrating the

Pennsylvania home is a weekend retreat, the Washington Heights townhouse is an investment property, and the Florida address is her son’s rented college apartment.

Suzanne Ryan said the company ordered her family out of Peter Cooper Village by the end of May after discovering that she and her husband owned a Long Island beachfront house.

“It’s a little Cape. We had fixed it up ourselves,” Ryan said. But the family used it sporadically as a summer beach house, she said, and their residence was in the city where her two children attend Catholic school.

City Councilman Daniel Garodnick, who lives in the complex, said residents had packed a series of legal notices.

“These are scary letters to get,” he said. “I think there are a number of legal, legitimate tenants who are getting caught up in this pursuit.”

Tishman Speyer declined to comment on specific cases, but said in a written statement that it was routine for city landlords to contact tenants suspecting of illegally holding leases.

“If residents feel a notice has been sent in error, there is a process in place to address each case individually,” the statement said.

“We only send notices when we believe there is true cause.”

Some tenants say they were given a chance to produce tax returns, voting records and credit card bills to demonstrate residency. Others face a trip to housing court, possibly with the expense of a lawyer.

Rent abuse rampant

Real estate experts say people shouldn’t instantly condemn Tishman.

Abuse of rent stabilisation rules is common in New York.

Some leaseholders move out of town and illegally sublet their apartments for a hefty profit. Others hold on to units they don’t need for years, using them as weekend getaways or passing them on to friends.

A few private eyes have built entire businesses out of following renters around and scouring public records to prove they don’t actually live in the apartments they lease.

Some landlords go as far as to install hidden cameras in hallways to prove that a leaseholder has moved out, said Mitch Kossoff, a lawyer representing property owners.

The incentive to catch a tenant cheating, he added, could be powerful: A vacancy means the landlord can immediately hike rents at least 20 per cent.

And any apartment where the legal monthly rent rises above $US2,000 ($A2,420) can be removed from the stabilisation rolls forever – a change worth hundreds of thousands of dollars to its owner.

Many tenants believe that was Tishman’s ultimate goal with its purchase, converting units to expensive luxury condominiums.

“They must have bought this place for too much money, and now they’re trying to throw everybody out and raise the rents,” said Ms Besosa’s husband, Rafael Rodriguez.


The complaints concern one of the country’s largest apartment complexes, the twin developments of Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village, comprising 110 buildings in a campus-like East Side setting.

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It is also one of the city’s largest stocks of rent-stabilised housing.

Tenants lucky enough to hold a lease on one of its 8,000 regulated units pay a fraction of the market rate. The savings allow a lifestyle unavailable to many middle-class New Yorkers.

Landlords have two ways to legally hike the rent more than a token amount annually: Persuade tenants to leave, or prove they live elsewhere.

Tenants say the global real-estate firm Tishman Speyer, which bought the complex last year for $US5.4 billion ($A6.53 billion), is engaged in a campaign to do both.

Over the past few months, hundreds of tenants say they received non-renewal notices on their leases over suspicions that they reside elsewhere for at least 183 days a year.

Private eyes

The charges are based on evidence apparently culled by private investigators, from public records, property deeds, and credit applications databases. Leaseholders were stunned by the scope of the information.

“It’s like they’re spying on us!” said Jeanette Besosa, who works at the United Nations.

Ms Besosa was accused of keeping residences in Florida, Pennsylvania and Manhattan’s Washington Heights neighbourhood.

She’s now assembling a thick binder of records demonstrating the

Pennsylvania home is a weekend retreat, the Washington Heights townhouse is an investment property, and the Florida address is her son’s rented college apartment.

Suzanne Ryan said the company ordered her family out of Peter Cooper Village by the end of May after discovering that she and her husband owned a Long Island beachfront house.

“It’s a little Cape. We had fixed it up ourselves,” Ryan said. But the family used it sporadically as a summer beach house, she said, and their residence was in the city where her two children attend Catholic school.

City Councilman Daniel Garodnick, who lives in the complex, said residents had packed a series of legal notices.

“These are scary letters to get,” he said. “I think there are a number of legal, legitimate tenants who are getting caught up in this pursuit.”

Tishman Speyer declined to comment on specific cases, but said in a written statement that it was routine for city landlords to contact tenants suspecting of illegally holding leases.

“If residents feel a notice has been sent in error, there is a process in place to address each case individually,” the statement said.

“We only send notices when we believe there is true cause.”

Some tenants say they were given a chance to produce tax returns, voting records and credit card bills to demonstrate residency. Others face a trip to housing court, possibly with the expense of a lawyer.

Rent abuse rampant

Real estate experts say people shouldn’t instantly condemn Tishman.

Abuse of rent stabilisation rules is common in New York.

Some leaseholders move out of town and illegally sublet their apartments for a hefty profit. Others hold on to units they don’t need for years, using them as weekend getaways or passing them on to friends.

A few private eyes have built entire businesses out of following renters around and scouring public records to prove they don’t actually live in the apartments they lease.

Some landlords go as far as to install hidden cameras in hallways to prove that a leaseholder has moved out, said Mitch Kossoff, a lawyer representing property owners.

The incentive to catch a tenant cheating, he added, could be powerful: A vacancy means the landlord can immediately hike rents at least 20 per cent.

And any apartment where the legal monthly rent rises above $US2,000 ($A2,420) can be removed from the stabilisation rolls forever – a change worth hundreds of thousands of dollars to its owner.

Many tenants believe that was Tishman’s ultimate goal with its purchase, converting units to expensive luxury condominiums.

“They must have bought this place for too much money, and now they’re trying to throw everybody out and raise the rents,” said Ms Besosa’s husband, Rafael Rodriguez.