More than 50 families are fighting the possibility of eviction in a New York State Appellate Court against their landlord, Renaissance Realty, which has utilized a legal loophole to justify significantly raising rents at two massive apartment complexes in Crown Heights. The rent hikes that Renaissance have imposed seek to nullify the terms of preferential rent that tenants at both 285 Schenectady Ave. and 1646 Union St. have enjoyed since the 1980s and 1990s, and would see rent double and possibly even triple for some building residents if they refuse to sign new leases provided by the landlord.
Tenants of both buildings have been banding together to appeal a motion filed in New York State Supreme Court that ruled in favor of Renaissance’s proposed rent hikes last month. Under that ruling, Renaissance is allowed to impose a market rate on tenants at both buildings, which were previously managed jointly by 285 Associates and the NYC Housing Development Corporation until 2007. The agreement between the HDC and 285 Associates protected all tenants from rent hikes since it was inked in 1987, but when Renaissance bought the building in April 2014, the management company later began to issue much more expensive leases.
All tenants have refused to sign the new leases issued by the landlord. They were initially given until October 1st of this year to comply with the new terms of rent or vacate the premises, but an appeal brought to a New York State Appellate Court, spearheaded by South Brooklyn Legal Services, granted five tenants a stay of eviction last week. The stay of eviction has provided a glimmer of hope among the heartbreak, but the battle is far from over.
Whatever is determined by the Appellate Court for the five tenants currently on trial will have a widespread effect on the whole process, according to Kerri White, director of organizing and policy for the Urban Homesteading Assistance Board. “Whatever is ultimately decided for these tenants will affect everyone in the building as [the court’s] argument would be the same.”
Pavita Krishnakowy, a lawyer with South Brooklyn Legal Services, briefed tenants of 285 Schenectady on the legal battle last night at a Tenant’s Associating meeting. “It’s not an appeal to emotionality, although there’s a lot of emotion here, this is an appeal to the law,” she said. “We want them to say that what’s going on here is wrong, besides being morally wrong, it’s legally wrong.”
Krishnakowy explained her interpretation of the law at a Vigil held outside 285 Schenectady earlier in the month, telling Gothamist that “when regulatory programs expire, the rent is legally set at the amount that tenants were charged the moment that the agreement ended,” so in effect, Renaissance’s hasty imposition of market rate can’t be viewed as just under the law.
The feeling inside the two buildings in Crown Heights, which are historically afflicted with crumbling walls, shoddy piping and rat infestations, is palpable and resilient, if not somewhat subdued for a few residents.
Michelle Ford, a young mother who splits time between raising her infant son and taking nursing classes, said of the evictions at 285 Schenectady: “It’s so crazy, I can’t even think about it.” Ford claims Renaissance has jacked her rent up to $2000 a month, forcing herself and mother to pay an additional $800 for their two bedroom apartment.
Jorge West, a security guard who works in Manhattan and who’s lived at 285 Schenectady for 15 years, says that the momentary stay of eviction is okay, but that it won’t suffice as he and other tenants wait in Limbo. “I have relief for now. It’ll bring relief when they instate the preferential rent and not the legal rent, that would be bring me real relief,” he said.
West was quick to mention that certain elected officials had pledged a showing of support for the tenants who are at odds with Renaissance. “They know what [Renaissance] is doing to us is unjust,” he said, naming the likes of Borough President Eric Adams, Councilwoman Laurie Cumbo and Assemblywoman Diana Richardson, who all attended the Vigil outside 285 Schenectady earlier in the month.
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