Hempstead landlord, tenants in years of struggle for rent, services

Tenants in two apartment buildings in Hempstead say their landlord has charged them thousands of dollars in rent, and a government agency to protect them has not consistently enforced rules.

The fighting has been going on for years. Since Manchester I LLC, based in Oyster Bay, bought a development with rent-stabilized units a few steps from Hempstead LIRR in the spring of 2013, tenants say they have lost a common room, a playground and the safer one. environment that security guards once provided. In some cases, the cuts in the Homes and Community Renewal service, the state body that oversees rent rules, led to the introduction of rent freezing. These directives prohibit the owner from raising the rent until the state has confirmed that the problems have been resolved.

According to tenants and HCR documents obtained through a request for freedom of information legislation, Manchester I has not improved conditions, has raised the rent without justification and threatened with eviction of residents who will not pay extra.

“They’re making you worse,” said David Lofton, chairman of the Manchester I Tenants’ Association. next month.”

Manchester I and its lawyer did not respond to repeated requests for comment. The company is based in Oyster Bay, according to state business records, and led by Bradford Mott, who is listed as a board member, according to 2019 legal documents.

The exact number of tenants who are subject to a rent freeze on the approximately 240-unit building is not known. More than 85 residents in the 1971 complex at 251 Jackson St. and 150 W. Columbia St. was listed on 2015 rental freezing documents provided by Lofton, but that number has changed with tenant turnover.

HCR said it could not disclose how many apartments in the development are rent stabilized due to rules protecting tenants’ privacy. Tenants in apartments covered by the rent stabilization legislation have the right to renew their tenancies with relatively predictable rent increases determined by the county rent board. Landlords are required to maintain services and face rent freeze if they do not.

Asked about a number of tenants’ concerns, HCR spokeswoman Charni Sochet said in an email that the agency’s Office of Rent Administration “is committed to protecting the rights of tenant-regulated tenants by enforcing and administering the law as enacted by the NYS legislature and interpreted by the courts. . ” However, the agency did not address a number of specific issues raised by tenants complaining about inconsistent enforcement.

The bed freezes aside

Tenants are often nervous about challenging the rise of Manchester I because they fear a fight with the owner could endanger their home, according to Samantha Fountain, who works at the village mayor’s office.

She has helped many residents appeal rent increases, leading to litigation with the landlord.

Fountain said Manchester I have recently been more willing to settle disputes before they get that far.

But she estimated she has encountered more than 50 tenants who were overwhelmed by the development in the last about seven years.

“It’s not easy for the tenants,” Fountain said. “They are afraid to come forward.”

E. Hardy, a tenant who did not want his first name published, is one of the residents who did not resign at first. She noted that her rent increased by about $ 9 in 2016, even though she got a freeze on the rent in 2015. Hardy did not think such a small sum was worth a potential conflict. “I did not want to have any problems even though they did not fix things as they should,” said Hardy, who has lived since the 1990s.

But other increases followed, according to leasing papers reviewed by Newsday. Hardy, a 54-year-old legal assistant, now estimates she has paid at least $ 1,700 in unauthorized rent increases. She said she is trying to figure out how to get her money back.

Postponement threats

When tenants do not pay the higher rent, Manchester I sues for deferral, which scares some residents to give in., said Lofton. Tenants who hold it out in court have won, he said. Legal documents show that since 2020, Manchester I have filed and withdrawn at least four eviction cases against tenants who were listed on rent freeze and who said they refused to pay increases.

Hazel Alexander, a retiree who has lived in the development for more than 25 years, said she discovered in 2020 that she had paid rent increases in 2018 and 2019, despite signing a 2015 rent reduction order that is still in effect . After Hazel said she stopped paying $ 40.41, the landlord filed a deferral lawsuit in October 2020, it shows court records.

Alexander said the landlord’s mistake in charging the higher rent was clear in court, and records show the owner withdrew his case against her back in May 2021. Manchester I stopped charging it too high a price for her, she said. But Alexander has not been made clear on how she will recover the about $ 2,000 she estimates she was overbilled.

“When you call [Manchester I], you do not get any, “she said.

Lofton and his wife were hit by a adjournment case in January 2020, the latest in a series of four cases filed and withdrawn against them since 2015, court records show. The couple has been protected by a rent freeze since 2014, which has kept their rent at $ 1,200 a month, according to Lofton and HCR paperwork. But Manchester I sent statements claiming he owed about $ 70,000 in rent because, Lofton said, the company did not comply with the agency’s order to freeze rent. He said overpricing continued his statements were corrected after he filed a complaint of harassment with HCR.

“I’ve been to court up there a dozen times. They know my name,” said Lofton, who is retired and going to court to support neighbors facing eviction.

Problems hang on

Several tenants shared concerns that the development was becoming more dangerous since Manchester I bought it almost nine years ago, and they said security guards were removed. Residents said they are one of the few buildings in the area without security, and homeless squatters occupy stairwells.

“Now I have to look and make sure there is no one in there before I go in … No one should have to live like that,” Hardy said of the use of the stairs.

Kevin Colgan, assistant chief of the Hempstead Village Police Department, said there has been a “significant” increase in calls from the development. During the seven years up to and including the change of ownership, the department received an average of 133 inquiries per year on the buildings. In the years since Manchester I took over, it has had an average of 238, Colgan said.

“We have a fair number of infringement complaints coming in, which we handle to the best of our ability,” he said.

HCR orders are not aware of the landlord’s obligation to provide security guards. In the West Columbia Street home, the loss of security personnel was quoted on rent freezes issued in 2015 and 2021, which are still in effect, documents show. But in the Jackson Street building, HCR has considered the loss of security guards a minimal change to deserve a rent freeze, according to agency documents and Lofton.

The state agency has issued conflicting orders for a common room that tenants say has been converted into two apartments, HCR documents show. The agency has recently given tenants the benefit. But Manchester I highlighted the agency’s inconsistency in lawsuits that challenged HCR’s decisions on the common room and on a playground, tenants say, were turned into parking lots.

In settlements in July 2019 and February 2020, HCR agreed to hold a hearing on whether the landlord is obliged to make the common room and playground available, court documents show. The hearing is scheduled for later this month, Lofton said.

Lofton said the HCR has taken a too lenient approach to enforcement – and it has not been very effective.

“They do not fine them,” Lofton said. “If [HCR] fines them for not getting things right again … they would fix those things. “

The agency issued a $ 250 fine in 2017 for failing to rectify parking conditions, which was noted in an early rent freeze in 2015, records show. Sochet, the HCR spokeswoman, did not respond directly when asked if the agency had issued other sanctions that did not appear in the FOIL documents.

HCR rarely takes enforcement action to follow up on violations routinely highlighted in rent-freezing documents, according to Andrew Scherer, a professor at New York Law School who wrote a dissertation on state landlord-tenant law. “They have the power. They do not have the obligation,” Scherer said.

An HCR official said the agency could take emergency action, but declined to say whether it would take such action on its own initiative in less serious cases.

If a rent-controlled or rent-stabilized tenant believes they are not receiving vital services, HCR said they should contact its rental administration office or tenant protection unit at 833-499-0343. Further information on tenants’ rights and how to lodge a complaint can be found at rent.hcr.ny.gov/RentConnect/Welcome.

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