Monday, July 24, 2006

Upper Manhattan Assembly Hearing on Affordable Housing

Date: Sun, 23 Jul 2006 23:28:16 EDT
Subject: Re: Assembly Hearing on Affordable Housing

Below I am find the testimony I will give at the State Assembly
hearing up at CU Presbyterian Hospital tomorrow that Vito Lopez,
Adriano Espaillat and others have set up.

Tom D
West Harlem Coalition
PO Box 660
Manhattanville Station,
New York, NY 10027
My name is Tom DeMott and I am a member of the West Harlem Coalition, a
non-profit group of volunteers who have been defending tenants rights for
twenty years. Our organization is also part of Nos Quedamos/Project Remain
and the Coalition to Preserve Community and we have all come together to deal
with the general issues of gentrification. We are dealing with very specific
problems - both with landlords like Pinnacle, which has a sophisticated campaign
to empty buildings in the name of "improvements", and with developers like
Columbia University, which has plans to create a biotech business park by
evicting businesses and residents using eminent domain, all in the name of
building an "academic campus".

My task today will be to discuss the role of MCI's in the harassment
process and to suggest some ways that a more equitable system can be
implemented which will prevent landlord abuse. We appreciate that the
Assembly has chosen to hold this hearing on July 24, 2006 and hope that
positive reforms are the result.

(1) Financial documents including all bills, contracts, and precise
descriptions of work to be performed by the contractor should be part
of the normal disclosure practice required by the landlord to DHCR and
should be provided to all tenants as part of the MCI notification process by
regular mail.

(2) Relevant information should be provided to all tenants by regular
mail before the repair process begins. A full presentation of documents and
checks and items properly signed and dated must be submitted in a clear
manner with full explanation of who is signing and what their title is.

(3) Progress reports of repair work must be provided in three stages by
regular mail to all tenants. The first notification that work has
started should be mailed within three days of the start date. There should
also be a mid-stage report updating progress, and a final report stating when
the job has been completed.

(4) The process of making requests for information by tenants should be
made easier from DHCR. A sample of possible reasons to contest an MCI
should be developed by DHCR - and reviewed by tenants and lawyers -
and this should be sent to all tenants anytime a landlord seeks an MCI
increase at the beginning of that process.

(5) Requests for extensions to answer MCI's should be extended to 60
days and extensions for cause should be granted and "cause" should be
defined by DHCR.

(6) In co-op buildings, all tenants, not just the regulated tenants, should
share the cost of repairs. At this point, all apartments divide up the cost,
but the co-op owners do not face an immediate increase the way regulated
tenants do.

(7) It should be recognized that in co-op buildings there are often fewer
regulated tenants than in earlier years during the conversions to
co-ops. DHCR no longer gives the same weight to the complaints of the
regulated tenants because there are fewer of them in buildings that are
now co-ops and this unequal consideration must be rectified.

(8) DHCR no longer gives the same weight to the complaints of the regulated
tenants because there are fewer of them in regulated buildings. Because the
percentage of tenants still under rent regulation has decreased due to
vacancy de-control, DHCR must address its policy of unequal consideration of
complaints by regulated tenants if they deem the percentage too low.

(9) Regulated tenants who have paid for MCI increases one time (for
example, have paid MCI increases 20 years ago for window replacement
and are confronting a second round of increases for a new MCI request for
new windows) should pay 50% of whatever is approved by DHCR for those
new increases if they have already paid one shelf life cycle.

(10) Long time regulated tenants face disproportionate increases when
compared to co-opers or deregulated tenants. For example, tenants
paying $700.00 per month face the same cost per room as those paying
much more rent. Tenants with more apparent means end up paying the
same increase (or sometimes no increase) as do the older tenants who
probably have much less means to pay the increases. A more proportional
system of increases must be established so the heaviest increases are not
imposed on older (and more likely less economically capable) tenants.

(11) Certified accountants must submit a statement asserting that no
money has been used for MCIĆ¢€™s from a co-op reserve fund and proof
of must be submitted to back up that claim - proof which should also be
provided to each tenant by regular mail.

(12) The shelf life for replacement items should be extended in all

(13) A review of certain allowable items eligible for increases should be
done with tenants having equal input with the landlord lobbyists. (For
example, security systems are more often used for surveillance of tenants.
When a robbery occurs, it is difficult for individual tenants to get copies of
tapes. What a security system is should be clearly delineated and the onus of
paying for systems not used for crime prevention should not be on tenants.)

(14) The full brunt of the cost of MCI's should not fall on the tenants. It
should be split 50/50 (landlord covers half and the tenants cover the
other half)

(15) The percentage for allowable MCI increases per year should

(16) A better system for collecting retroactive charges for MCI's must
be developed to eliminate the hardship of a huge and immediate bill for
tenants once MCI's have been approved by DHCR.

(17) The allowable time to do a PAR (Petition for Administrative
Review) must be increased to 60 days and extensions for cause should be
granted and "cause" should be defined by DHCR.

(18) There is major abuse of the MCI/amortization rent increase system when
landlords are renovating apartments between tenancies. Somehow they
manage to bring the cost of the renovation to the point where applying the
1/40th formula gets the rent in the apartment above $2000 and it is
deregulated for the subsequent tenant. Claims by landlords that renovations
cost the $40,000 or $60,000 - which result in immediate increases of $1,000
or $1,500 using the 1/40 amortization formula - are hard to contest for the
same reasons outlined above for MCI's.

There needs to be a mechanism for checking renovations and some
industry standard prices set for such work---as standard practice by DHCR or
some other agency that works with DHCR. We are talking about the future of
affordable housing and race and class diversity in a city that is rapidly losing
both. The real estate industry has craftily used a variety of tactics to get
instant and huge increases which go far beyond the original intention of the

A cap must be put on the allowable increases to prevent abuse. If a
landlord wants to renovate an apartment, that is fine, but there has to be a cap
on the amount of an increase allowed when these "major renovations" which
double, triple or quadruple rents are claimed. A diverse committee should be
established to set a cap.

Unless there is a tightening of the laws to prevent landlord abuse of
rent-stabilization - legislation which prevents these opportunities for
jacking up rents by huge percentages - there will soon be no more affordable

The state should do a survey of the rents being charged in apartments
against the legal maximum rent filed at DHCR. The agency could mail tenants a
printout of what their legal rent should be and ask tenants to send back notice
if this is what they pay or not. Leveraging an additional penalty for all
landlords found to be gouging, similar to the triple-damages clause, could pay
for such a survey Finally, luxury decontrol should be eliminated or the minimum increased
from $2,000 to $6,000.00. And, if a landlord decides to install a dishwasher
or washing machine in an apartment to get increases which will help get to
the decontrol level, tenants in all apartments in the building should be
notified that they have the right to install equivalent appliances.
Thank you for holding this hearing and listening to the problems we
tenants are facing and our ideas for a more equitable system.

Tom DeMott - Executive Committee member of the West Harlem Coalition

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