Public Advocate Jumaane Williams was in Queens on May 6 rallying with community organizers and speaking out against Zara Realty Holding Group’s fraudulent use on Major Capital Improvements (MCIs) to evict tenants.
Attorney General Letitia James, who Williams replaced, and Governor Andrew Cuomo announced a lawsuit had been filed in March against Zara Realty for repeatedly violating rent stabilization laws and harassing tenants at the Queens apartment buildings in March.
“Zara Realty is just one of the many bad actor landlords who have abused MCIs to evict tenants across the city, so it’s time for Albany to act,” Williams said. “This type of egregious action is not only displacing tenants, but it’s depleting our city’s affordable housing stock by allowing landlords to raise rents and remove units from the protections that come with rent regulated units.”
Zara Realty has been accused of violating New York’s rent stabilization law multiple times by slamming tenants with illegal broker’s fees, excess security deposits and illegal late fees, according to the Public Advocate. A lawsuit against the Jamaica-based company accuses the landlord of changing the terms and conditions of existing tenancies by compelling tenants to sign new leases, in turn waiving important rights, and failing to provide tenants with required lease riders that explain their rights under rent regulation law.
Williams called on Albany to prioritize legislation sponsored by state Senator Michael Gianaris and Assemblyman Brian Barnwell which would eliminate the ability for landlords to pass the cost of building repairs onto renters with MCIs. Williams argued that abuse of MCIs lead to tenants being priced out of their homes.
“Many landlords have benefitted from and abused loopholes in the current rent laws to systematically displace thousands of tenants from their homes,” Chhaya CDC Community Organizer Rima Begum said. “Zara Realty is just one corporate landlord that will inflate the costs on Major Capital Improvements, increasing rents to exorbitant levels. We need to drastically rethink our housing laws, and eliminate MCI.”
Zara Realty defended its practices saying all MCIs are approved by the state’s Homes & Community Renewal office after a lengthy and thorough review and adds that tenants also have a chance to review and comment on MCI plans prior to construction.
“The company purchases older buildings, many of which have a long history of neglect by prior owners, and invests in new infrastructure, including boilers, windows, facades and roofs, security systems, renovations to individual units and other amenities, all in the service of creating high-quality affordable housing for tenants,” the company said in a statement. “The company has never sold a building it purchased in Queens. Zara is proud to invest in its properties for the benefit of tenants.”