By Bill Parry
New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman joined U.S. Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-Jackson Heights) at the offices of Woodside on the Move Monday to discuss tenants’ rights with dozens of concerned renters and activists during a roundtable discussion. Participants asked Crowley and Schneiderman about their efforts to combat the practices of predatory landlords and expand access to affordable housing in New York City.
“New York City is facing a housing crisis that has forced the cost of living in Queens and the Bronx to unsustainable heights,” Crowley said. “I will continue fighting for policies in Congress that supports renters and aspiring homeowners and do whatever I can to eliminate the abusive practice of predatory landlords across New York.”
Crowley is advocating for a tax benefit for renters, like the ones given to homeowners in his Rent Relief Act introduced last year.
“We need to ensure the rents are stabilized and they are not increasing at a rate at which is not affordable for our constituents,” he said.
Woodside on the Move has been fighting for tenants residing in Jackson Heights, Woodside, Corona, and Jamaica against the Department of Housing and Community Renewal for its failure to adequately address the high rent increases caused by major capital improvements. Landlords can increase rent to cover changes in an apartment or multiple dwellings.
Schneiderman explained that the current crisis stems from two main causes: the boom in the city’s real estate market that is “unlike anything we’ve seen before” and the federal government’s lack of assistance for tenants.
“This is where Congressman Crowley has really been a leader in New York in calling this out and flagging this for us,” Schneiderman said. “It’s something we have to address.”
Schneiderman left Woodside to meet with several tenants of Astoria properties that were owned by White House adviser Jared Kushner’s real estate company. The attorney general acknowledged there is an investigation into Kushner Companies filing false paperwork with the city Department of Buildings in an effort to skirt rent regulations. The City Council is also investigating whether tenants were driven out of their units.
State Sen. Michael Gianaris (D-Astoria) called on the DOB to issue an immediate stop work order on all Kushner Companies’ properties until an investigation into their business practices is concluded. An investigation by the Housing Rights Initiative found that Kushner Companies also used construction projects to drive up rents and harass tenants.
“Bad actors should not benefit at the expense of tenants when they flout rules designed to protect residents,” Gianaris said. “I urge DOB to immediately stop any construction taking place on Kushner Companies’ properties until officials get to the bottom of these serious allegations.”
DOB says it is implementing 12 new laws to fight tenant harassment and is hiring 72 new inspectors and other staff dedicated to the effort. The agency’s Tenant Harassment Task Force has been investigating Kushner Companies’ three Astoria buildings since 2016.
“We share Senator Gianaris’s concerns and are investigating this matter,” a DOB spokeswoman said. “We won’t tolerate landlords who use construction to harass tenants — no matter who they are. Landlords have a legal and moral responsibility to keep their buildings safe and we will use every resource to fight bad actors who don’t live up to those obligations.”
Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at bparr