Following a complaint from the Ridgewood Tenants Union, Attorney General Letitia James stated on Dec. 13 that she had reached an agreement with a Great Neck-based real estate company to protect tenants from illegal lockouts in two residential buildings on Onderdonk Avenue.
In June, BlueSky Management NY LLC purchased the two adjoining properties in Ridgewood — one of which is rent-stabilized — and immediately sent lease termination notices to tenants. According to the AG’s office, the company followed the notices with letters, emails and text messages, illegally threatening to lock the remaining tenants out of their apartments.
As a result of the settlement, all tenants who received the threats will receive $1,000 in restitution, and additional apartments will be returned to rent stabilization.
“My office stood up to BlueSky when tenants did not know where to turn, and we will continue to fight against bad faith attacks in affordable housing in New York City and across the state,” James said. “BlueSky’s greedy and aggressive behavior left tenants frightened, confused, and unsure of their rights under the law. As New York City continues to battle this housing crisis, we must spare no effort in protecting tenants and defending affordable housing.”
Ridgewood Tenants Union coordinator Gina Lee hailed the settlement saying protection of rent-stabilized units in the neighborhood is imperative as working-class tenants are being priced out due to gentrification.
“In Ridgewood, companies such as BlueSky are purchasing more and more rent-stabilized buildings with the purpose of deregulating units and charging high market rents,” Lee said. “BlueSky thought they could break the law in these Onderdonk Avenue buildings, but tenants acted quickly with the help of their local tenants’ union and swift action of the Office of the Attorney General.”
BlueSky is represented by the law firm Kucker, Marino, Winiarsky & Bittens which issued this statement:
“The agreement entered into with the Office of the Attorney General makes it very clear that prior to taking ownership, BlueSky NY Management (“BlueSky”) were advised by both the prior owner and prior counsel that certain units in the buildings were not covered by rent stabilization and acted accordingly. Once advised of the rent-regulated status of certain limited units, BlueSky immediately rescinded the notices and took no further action to dispossess anyone of their rent-stabilized rights. BlueSky are long-standing property managers who have always made diligent and good-faith efforts to comply with the law in every instance. On this singular occasion, BlueSky relied upon professional representations and upon learning of the error of said representations acted immediately to correct any improper notices. BlueSky was, and remains, committed to fostering long-standing relationships with its tenants based upon honesty, integrity, and best business practice.”
The company purchased the building at 402 and 404 Onderdonk Ave. and claimed that because 404 had undergone renovations to combine two units in 2012, the entire building was no longer rent-stabilized, which was false, according to the attorney general. As part of the settlement, all BlueSky employees will undergo mandatory training within three months to cover illegal lockouts and unlawful evictions.
“Protecting tenants from unscrupulous landlords must be a priority,” state Senator Michael Gianaris said. “I applaud the work of local advocates, including the Ridgewood Tenants Union, which is fighting for residents every day.”
Before seeking elected office, Councilwoman Jennifer Gutiérrez was a tenants’ rights organizer in Ridgewood and Brooklyn.
“When tenants know their rights and join forces to hold predatory landlords accountable for their illegal actions, everyone wins,” Gutiérrez said. “O appreciate these efforts from Attorney General James and her staff for prioritizing tenant protection, and hope that other landlords see that they will be held to the same standards as everyone else in our justice system.”
Under the terms of the agreement, by Dec. 31, BlueSky will provide rent-stabilized leases reflecting their proper regulated rent to the tenants of 404 Onderdonk Ave. whose rent did not reach the high rent decontrol threshold.
“There is no right more fundamental than the right to have a home to call your own. That means there can be no relenting from our leaders when it comes to ensuring all our families have a roof over their heads,” Queens Borough President Donovan Richards said. “On behalf of the entire Ridgewood community and all of Queens, I am deeply grateful to Attorney General James for her swift action, to the Ridgewood Tenants Union for their advocacy, and to all who played a role in rightfully keeping these families in their homes.”