Attorneys at Manhattan Legal Services recently filed a lawsuit on behalf of five Washington Heights residents against their landlord for harassment. The suit alleges the landlord, Vantage Properties LLC, violated the Tenant Protection Act and alleges the owners harassed, threatened and intimidated tenants in an effort to dislodge them from their affordable rent regulated apartments.
“Vantage has demanded payment of charges that the tenants do not owe, commenced baseless lawsuits against some of the plaintiffs, and refused to make necessary repairs to leaky ceilings on the verge of collapse, damaged floors, cracks and holes in the walls, and windows that do not close,” Manhattan Legal Services staff attorney Lyda Tyburec said.
“Additionally, the tenants live with mold, rodents and roaches because of Vantage and 3489 Broadway LLC’s gross negligence and disregard for the lives, health and safety of the plaintiffs’ and other occupants of the premises.”
According to the city’s housing agency, there are 100 open housing code violations on the 80-unit building. During this decade’s housing boom, Vantage has gone on a shopping spree, spending $300 million for 48 buildings in Queens and purchased other buildings in northern Manhattan covering 9,500 mostly rent-regulated apartments according to the Real Deal.
In Queens, Legal Services New York City filed a similar suit in 2008 over the company’s aggressive business tactics. As part of the Queens case, Vantage has temporarily agreed not to bring any housing court proceedings against tenants. Landlords have an economic incentive to evict or get tenants to voluntarily vacate their rent-regulated apartments. Once a regulated apartment becomes vacant the landlord can add 1/40 of the costs of renovations to the rent and once the rent surpasses $2,000 a month, the landlord can legally deregulate the unit (a process called vacancy decontrol). Once the apartment is deregulated, the sky is the limit for the rent and the new tenants have little rental protections. Tenant groups have been pressuring the State Senate to enact legislation repealing vacancy decontrol.
The Manhattan suit seeks an injunction requiring defendants to correct their records, to cease charging plaintiffs with balances that they do not owe, to cease the wrongful charging of Section 8 and excessive security deposit, and to stop threatening to file non-payment actions against rent-regulated tenants who have paid their rent according to Manhattan Legal Services Director of Litigation Chaumtoli Huq.
While the Manhattan suit only covers five long-term and elderly tenants, Huq commented that her group wanted to highlight a population more susceptible to fraud.
“I can’t imagine [Vantage] will act any different from Queens,” Huq said.