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Attorney general cracks down on Flushing condo immigrant intimidation

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Northeast Queens lawmakers are lauding Attorney General Letitia James and her efforts on behalf of a number of their constituents who faced forfeiture of rent-stabilized apartments in Flushing.

James announced agreements with a condo owner, its principals and a security firm over repeated violations of rent stabilization laws and guidance.

The agreements with 132-40 Sanford LLC, the sponsor of the Summit at Infinity 8 Condominium located at 132-40 Sanford Ave., its real estate management company, Pinnacle Managing Co., LLC, and security firm SW Security Services, LLC, resolves violations relating to the modification of a front door lock of the rent-stabilized building which ultimately led to several of the building’s tenants, mostly Chinese, forfeiting their rent-stabilized apartments.

Under the terms of the agreements, the companies will implement a series of measures that are inclusive to all tenants, undergo anti-discrimination trainings, and donate $50,000 to nonprofit organizations that focus on tenant organizing in Asian communities.

“Tenants have a right to stay in their homes, and we must do all we can to protect affordable housing,” James said. “The companies failed to deliver the pinnacle of service to tenants, and their actions forced individuals, particularly Chinese tenants, out of their rent-stabilized homes. Let this serve as a warning that we will not tolerate anyone or any entity that violates our housing laws and threatens New Yorkers’ right to a safe and decent home.”

In 2017, after acquiring the occupied rent-stabilized rental building at Stanford Avenue and submitting initial offering documents to the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) to convert the building to a condominium, the sponsor hired SW Security Services to change the building’s front door lock system to an electronic access system. However, the sponsor and Pinnacle Managing failed to apply to the state’s Division of Housing and Community Renewal (DHCR) for permission to change the door lock, a violation of the state’s rent stabilization guidance.

The subsequent key fob distribution system process was overly burdensome on tenants and excluded certain individuals. Tenants were incorrectly told to present a valid New York state ID or other government-issued ID to receive their new key fob. At the same time, only U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents qualified for government-issued IDs, leaving a significant number of non-citizen and non-legal permanent resident Chinese tenants of the building with the impression that they were not entitled to access their own homes.

“It seems clear that the owners and operators of the Infinity 8 Condominium and the security firm deliberately attempted to target members of our Asian American community in an effort to force them out of their own homes,” state Senator Toby Ann Stavisky said. “This practice is abhorrent, shameful, and cannot be tolerated. I applaud Attorney General Letitia James for investigating this discriminatory practice and protecting rent-stabilized tenants.”

Additionally, the OAG’s investigation found that in March 2018, when SW Security Services distributed the key fobs to tenants, the company’ impermissibly recorded information from tenant IDs. The company then used the information as a basis for initiating investigations into 13 of the tenants, 10 with Chinese surnames.

“This is certainly a big step in the right direction and it shows the impact of a pro-tenant attorney general,” Assemblyman Ron Kim said. “I want to thank Attorney General Letitia James for continuing to put the needs of our most vulnerable members first, and I look forward to working more closely with her and her office to hold predatory landlords and developers accountable.”

Both the sponsor and management company authorized those investigations, which resulted in seven of the tenants, six of whom had Chinese surnames, to forfeit their apartments.

“Targeting rent-stabilized tenants with private investigations is despicable beyond words, and I am very grateful to Attorney General James for making sure these condo owners are held accountable for their blatant harassment,” Councilman Peter Koo said. “I sincerely hope others looking to flip our rent-stabilized housing stock by intimidating immigrant tenants take note of this case and know that our community is watching, law enforcement is watching, and there are serious repercussions for playing fast and loose with tenants’ rights.”

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