BY JAMES FARRELL
Residents from across seven Flushing buildings gathered at St. George’s Episcopal Church to voice concerns over recent actions by New Jersey-based development company Treetop Development, which owns the buildings in question. The corporation has been exploiting loopholes to raise rents and drive low-income residents out of their apartments in order to begin gentrifying the area, the residents argued.
The meeting was organized by the Flushing Rezoning Community Alliance. Faith in New York, an interfaith organization, was also in attendance. Andrew Hausermann, the director of Organizing for Faith in New York, explained that the organization had heard many complaints from residents in the seven buildings, which Treetop purchased six months ago.
“This company, Treetop, has a bad history,” Hausermann said to the hundred or so residents in attendance. “They have a history of buying rent-stabilized units in neighborhoods that they say are soon upcoming neighborhoods, might be gentrifying neighborhoods, and they’ll buy these rent-stabilized buildings, run out the low-income tenants and then sell the buildings for a big profit.”
Hausermann also said that the company was accused of similar practices in Williamsburg and Harlem.
Among the chief complaints raised by residents is what they say is a loophole in New York State law that allows for permanent rent increases in rent-stabilized units. Landlords can implement these raises to fund construction projects called major capital improvements. These MCI increases are problematic, Hausermann explained, because even after the project is funded, the rent increase can remain in place, which could drive low-income tenants out. When the rent reaches a certain threshold, it eliminates the rent-stabilization designation, Hausermann said. These concerns have been raised in the wake of a high level of construction going on around the buildings.
One building in question, 132-40 Sanford Ave., received a stop-work order after Councilmember Peter Koo (D-Flushing) voiced concerns raised by constituents. A June stop-work order complaint on the Department of Buildings website said that workers were “removing asbestos without protection” and cited debris in the hallway. Another complaint from July said that work resumed at the site despite the stop-work order.
Another resident, who asked not to be named, had a copy of her lease that she showed to the Queens Tribune. She pointed to the rent and noted that a price had been written out over a white strip. She said the original, agreed-upon rent had been whited out, and a higher number had been written in.
The Tenant’s Rights Coaltion, a partnership between the Legal Aid Society and Legal Services NYC, provided lawyers at the meeting, and residents were invited to discuss their cases with these lawyers at the meeting or some time in the future. They encouraged all residents with concerns to meet with someone so they could see what other problems may exist, organize and begin to assess next steps.
State Sen. Toby Stavisky (D-Flushing), Koo and Assemblyman Ron Kim (D-Flushing) were all in attendance as well.
Koo told the Queens Tribune that they have constituents reaching out about rent increases of nearly $600 to $800.
“While we are committed to investing in the buildings as a way to improve the living experience, we’re also committed to maintaining the character of the surrounding neighborhood by keeping rents in line with those of comparable properties in the area,” said Azi Mandel, managing member of Treetop, in a statement. “Furthermore, Treetop stringently abides by all New York City housing regulations, and we vehemently dispute any accusation regarding the illegal alteration of lease agreements in any manner whatsoever.”
A spokesman for Treetop also told the Queens Tribune that the claims about MCIs were unfounded.
“We haven’t applied for any MCIs. The previous owner, they replaced the boilers, they replaced the elevators, they applied for MCIs, they got the MCIs,” the spokesman said. The spokesman also added that the manager has tried to assure tenants that if they already got an MCI from a previous owner, they would not get another one.
Reach James Farrell at (718) 357-7400×127, or email@example.com, or @farrellj329.