For Immediate Release: Wednesday, March 13, 2019
Contact: General HPD Press Contact, hpdmedia@hpd.nyc.gov

 

Attorney General James, HCR, and HPD Intervene in Federal Court to Stop Eviction of NYC Rent-Stabilized Tenants 

NY AG, NYS HCR, and NYC HPD seek to join U.S. Bankruptcy Court action to oppose a landlord-initiated motion to push out rent-stabilized tenants

HPD Commissioner Maria Torres-Springer at Wednesday’s tenant rally (photo credit: NYC HPD/Jonathan Patkowski)

NEW YORK, NY – Today, Attorney General James, New York State Division of Housing and Community Renewal (NYSHCR) Commissioner RuthAnne Visnauskas, and New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) Commissioner Maria Torres-Springer announced that the City and State sought to join in an action in the United States Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of New York on behalf of tenants at 444 East 13th Street in Manhattan. Both the City and State are opposing the building owner’s application to reject tenants’ leases, an application that is a thinly-veiled attempt to flout rent regulation laws and displace tenants. 

“Bankruptcy Court should not be used as a tool to unjustly oust rent-stabilized New Yorkers from their homes,” said Attorney General Letitia James. “In filing this motion, my office is working to ensure that the tenants are not displaced. Housing is a right, and we will continue to use every legal tool available to stand up for tenants and to enforce their rights.” 

“New Yorkers have a right to live in safe homes free from harassment. We are proud to join our partners in standing up for these tenants against a landlord who is trying to take advantage of bankruptcy proceedings to cancel their regulated, affordable leases and dodge State law in the process,” said New York State Homes and Community Renewal Commissioner RuthAnne Visnauskas. “We cannot allow these proceedings to set a precedent that would undermine the rights of millions of New Yorkers.”

“This administration remains unwavering in its commitment to stop tenant harassment in its tracks, and today we’re letting bad landlords know that we will not tolerate any attempt to displace our city's hard-working families. This alarming and blatant end-run on the protections of our rent stabilization laws will not stand,” said HPD Commissioner Maria Torres-Springer. “I thank the New York State Attorney General and our colleagues at the City and State for standing strong against bad landlords and supporting this city’s tenants.”

"The owner of 444 East 13th St. has spent years illegally harassing the tenants living in these rent-stabilized apartments, and this legal maneuver is just the latest shady tactic to remove these long-time New Yorkers from their homes. I stand with my colleagues in City and State government in defense of these residents' legal right to their rent-stabilized homes and with these tenants as they take a critical action against this building owner," said New York City Councilwoman Carlina Rivera. "Bad actors across New York need to be put on notice - our government is in the business of protecting and expanding rent-regulated apartments and I certainly will not sit idly by while harassment takes place in my District.”

“This case is about tenants who organized themselves to demand safe and dignified housing, and predatory landlords who are using the toxic tactics to punish them for exercising their rights. Especially in a year when tenants are demanding reforms in Albany, any attempt to circumvent the protections of rent stabilization must be strenuously opposed, and we welcome the New York State Attorney General’s intervention in this case,” said Senior Staff Attorney at Community Development Project Michael Leonard.

“We won’t stand for this egregious attempt to manipulate the law and push tenants out of the homes that they’ve lived in for decades. The affordability crisis is a threat to our communities, and we stand by the tenants at 444 East 13th Street,” said GOLES Executive Director Damaris Reyes. “We thank Attorney General Letitia James, HCR, HPD, and Council Member Rivera for their staunch support of NYC tenants.” 

Tenants in the building have been withholding rent for months on the grounds that the landlord has failed to make necessary repairs. The building’s current violations include inadequate heat, broken or defective plumbing, an accumulation of garbage in the hall, and rodents.The building’s owner earlier filed for bankruptcy, and is trying to get the Court to permit it to reject the rent stabilized leases of the tenants. The City and State, in a joint motion, argue that the landlord is seeking to avoid state protections given to rent-stabilized tenants, who have a right to withhold rent if an apartment is uninhabitable. 

The building at 444 East 13th Street contains sixteen residential units, all of which were registered as rent-stabilized as of 2016, the last time the landlord registered rents with HCR. The landlord claims that it should be entitled to reject these tenants’ leases without going through the standard state procedures to address the tenants’ demands, seek rent or resolve these issues. The Attorney General and her partners are concerned that the use of the Bankruptcy Court to bypass state protections for tenants would set a bad precedent and would encourage other landlords to file bankruptcy solely to avoid state law and its protections. 

The intervention motion is being handled for the Attorney General’s Bureau of Consumer Frauds and Protection by Assistant Attorneys General Elena González, Mark Ladov and Bureau Chief Jane M. Azia, for the Attorney General’s Real Estate Finance Bureau by Senior Enforcement Counsel Rachel Hannaford and Bureau Chief Brent Meltzer, and for the Litigation Bureau by Special Bankruptcy Counsel Enid Stuart. Both Bureaus are overseen by First Deputy Attorney General Jennifer Levy. Alan H. Kleinman of the New York City Law Department’s Affirmative Litigation Division and Gabriela Cacuci of its Tax and Bankruptcy Division handled the matter with HPD’s General Counsel Nick Lundgren and Assistant Commissioner Marti Weithman. 

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The New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) is the nation’s largest municipal housing preservation and development agency. Its mission is to promote quality housing and diverse, thriving neighborhoods for New Yorkers through loan and development programs for new affordable housing, preservation of the affordability of the existing housing stock, enforcement of housing quality standards, and educational programs for tenants and building owners. HPD is tasked with fulfilling Mayor de Blasio’s Housing New York Plan which was recently expanded and accelerated through Housing New York 2.0 to complete the initial goal of 200,000 homes two years ahead of schedule—by 2022, and achieve an additional 100,000 homes over the following four years, for a total of 300,000 homes by 2026.  For full details visit www.nyc.gov/hpd and for regular updates on HPD news and services, connect with us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram @NYCHousing.