Some Forest Hills residents are thanking a housing watchdog group for taking on a global asset management firm and winning at least the first round.
The Housing Rights Initiative — a nonprofit that has sued major landlords, including a firm run by senior presidential advisor Jared Kushner — has won a preliminary victory in its fight on behalf of rent-stabilized tenants at the sprawling Parker Towers, the 1,327-unit housing complex at 104-20 Queens Blvd.
Blackstone Group, which bought the development from the Jack Parker Corporation for $500 million in November, has agreed to pay about $1.1 million in refunds to tenants after the Housing Rights Initiative (HRI) generated a class action lawsuit, filed by the law firm Newman Ferrara, against the Jack Parker Corporation in March 2018, claiming the company illegally deregulated apartments despite getting massive tax breaks under the J-51 program, which requires owners to keep their apartments rent stabilized.
The suit, one of the largest J-51 lawsuits in city history, remains ongoing.
“The goal here is not to get back some of what was stolen, but to get back all of what was stolen,” HRI Executive Director Aaron Carr said. “Stay tuned.”
The complex, which was built in 1960, features three 20-story apartment towers which offer amenities such as 24-hour doorman service, a dog run, indoor parking and a private club. The original lawsuit charged the owners illegally leased apartments at market-rents, never gave leases to tenants and failed to register the units with the state, according to HRI.
In announcing the agreement, Blackstone said it was reviewing lease agreements and has found that 110 units were entitled to reductions and about 82 units should be re-regulated. Blackstone said the average rent reduction would be about $230 a month.
“We are pleased that we were able to voluntarily address this issue quickly and fairly for our residents,” a Blackstone statement said. “We will continue to review the prior owners’ lease files with the expectation of resolving and remaining issues expeditiously.”
Attorney Lucas Ferrara, the founder of Newman Ferrara which is representing the tenants, said the lawsuit is ongoing.
“We appreciate that the new landlord is taking steps to recognize these tenant’s rent stabilization rights following the actions of the prior owner,” he said. “While we believe that these tenants are entitled to additional relief, we look forward to working with ownership to reach a fair and equitable solution for our clients.”
HRI’s leader Carr called the settlement a significant first step in a series of steps to restoring the rights of hundreds of tenants. He also admitted it was a victory for his small nonprofit group against such a massive corporate entity.
“Our organization has a budget of 1/25 of 1 percent of the state housing enforcement agency’s budget,” Carr said. “If the agency had a pizza party for all its employees, it would represent a significant portion of our budget. And that doesn’t even include toppings.”