Uptown tenants demand answers downtown
Inquilinos del Alto Manhattan demandan contestaciones

Uptown tenants demand answers downtown

Buildings slated for foreclosure have troubled management history

Story, photos and videos by Sherry Mazzocchi

Councilmember Ydanis Rodriguez and Dan DeSloover, co-director at Urban Homesteading Assistance Board (UHAB), rallied with tenants outside equity firm Lone Star’s offices.
Councilmember Ydanis Rodriguez and Dan
DeSloover, co-director at Urban Homesteading
Assistance Board (UHAB), rallied with tenants
outside equity firm Lone Star’s offices.

Evelyn Tavarez and about 30 other northern Manhattan residents gathered in front of 888 Seventh Avenue, just steps from Columbus Circle, on Thurs., Sept. 27th.

They were not there to see the sights, visit Central Park or pick up a few luxury items from the Time Warner Center.

They were on official business.

The tenants gathered chanted and held signs that read, among other messages, “Don’t Mess with Tenants.”

They all described dwelling in apartment buildings that are plagued with problems. Violations include mice and roach infestations. Peeling paint tainted with asbestos. Mold. One apartment is even missing a bathroom door.

Joined by New York City Councilmember Ydanis Rodriguez, the tenants stood before the skyscraper where Lone Star Properties, a Texas-based private equity firm, has its New York office.

Lone Star is trying to foreclose on their buildings.

And that is not a good thing for tenants, according to Dan DeSloover, co-director of organizing and policy at the Urban Homesteading Assistance Board (UHAB), a tenant advocacy group.

“With a foreclosure, conditions can further slide into disrepair,” he said.

The buildings were owned by Vantage Properties before its mortgages were bought by Lone Star earlier this year.

Vantage has been repeatedly accused of harassing people out of apartments in order to jack up rents and generate higher revenues.

Vantage also has acquired a reputation for not fixing problems and letting conditions deteriorate, another way of forcing tenants to move.

Tavarez said her building’s problems have persisted for years.

“They don’t paint and they don’t fix anything,” she said.

“They don’t paint and they don’t fix anything,” said tenant Evelyn Tavarez.
“They don’t paint and they don’t fix anything,”
said tenant Evelyn Tavarez.

In 2010, then State Attorney General Andrew Cuomo threatened to sue Vantage for “serving tenants with baseless legal notices” and “frivolous housing court eviction proceedings.” Vantage settled out of court, paying $1 million in fines, most of which went to tenants.

Lone Star’s purchase of Vantage Properties’ mortgages have tenants and advocates worried.

DeSloover said that Vantage is trying to get out of foreclosure and sell the buildings at a price higher than the mortgage. He said that even though Vantage tried to churn through tenants and raise rents, they still couldn’t afford the buildings.

“We’re worried it’s going to be another speculator. Vantage, when they bought the buildings, they were a speculator,” argued DeSlooever. “They had a plan to kick out half of the tenants who were rent regulated and it didn’t work out. That’s why the buildings went into foreclosure.”

“If they are trying to sell them for more,” DeSloover added, “the tenants are worried that things are just going to get worse.”

UHAB believes that since the buildings are in the midst of the foreclosure process, Lone Star is also complicit in the sale.

It is why they chose to bring their concerns down to the equity firm’s offices.

The sale is moving forward, said Celia Weaver, a UHAB tenant organizer, at the very least with Lone Star’s permission, if not its active participation.

Vantage is selling the buildings through an offering agent, Brookfield Financial Real Estate Group.

Ten Inwood and Washington Heights buildings are packaged as the Decathlon Portfolio – named after one of the buildings. Sleek marketing materials describe the properties as “nestled between parks and “easily accessible to Midtown Manhattan within 30 minutes.”

They also state that “a new owner may potentially benefit by putting their own management in place to enhance property performance to increase below market rents.”

In his letter to Lone Star, UHAB’s DeSloover said that tenants were alarmed that the broker package was being marketed for $50 million – $6 million more than the outstanding debt.

He also indicated that buyers are being told to increase below market rents.

“The only way that can happen is by removing the vast majority of us who are rent-regulated tenants,” he wrote.

He noted that, in four buildings on Pinehurst and Broadway, Vantage is trying to retain ownership.

Those rallying held up signs of protest.
Those rallying held up signs of protest.

“Unless there have been significant changes in terms of the loans, this will lead to further harassment and deterioration,” he said.

Moreover, Tavarez argued that Vantage had consistently charged tenants rents higher than they actually owed.

“When we get the statement of the rent every month,” she said, “we’re getting charged more money than we’re supposed to. And they take you to court,” she said.

Another protester, Juan Carlo, who’s lived in the same building near Dyckman Street for more than 10 years, said he too was overcharged.

“That’s not right,” he said. “We’ve lived there for a long time.”

“A lot of people in the building don’t speak up because they don’t know the language,” Tavarez added. She said that even though several residents have lived there for two decades, building management doesn’t return their calls.

UHAB would like to see a preservation developer buy the buildings.

“Someone who is based in the neighborhood, someone who is good with affordable housing,” is how DeSloover described it.

On Thursday morning, Councilmember Rodriguez and DeSloover tried to meet with Lone Star officials but were turned away by building security.

Councilmember Rodriguez said that UHAB and City Council, including Speaker Christine Quinn, had requested a meeting with Lone Star, but they refused.

“We are here to ask for a fair process,” said the Councilmember. “We are talking about more than 2,000 tenants in Northern Manhattan. They don’t know who their management is and they don’t know what’s going to happen in the future with their buildings.”

Security also refused to accept a letter addressed to Marc Lipshy, Lone Star’s vice president.

A building security agent said, “Send it via the U.S. Postal Service,” and gently suggested that the two leave the building.

NYPD was also called.

Two discreetly dressed plainclothes policemen told the Councilmember that the protesting group had to move from the building’s open-air plaza to the sidewalk.

One of them explained that even though it is a public space, it is private property.

Celia Weaver was one of the organizers: “The tenants are not going to sit down.”
Celia Weaver was one of the organizers: “The
tenants are not going to sit down.”

Foreclosure is a threat to tenants, but it’s also an opportunity, said UHAB tenant organizer Weavr.

“Our hope is that by publicizing the problems here, Lone Star will start listening to tenants concerns,” she said. She argued that she and the advocates present want potential buyers to realize the buildings have significant violations and that tenants pay low rents.

And they want Lone Star to know, said Weaver, that they are long-term tenants who aren’t going anywhere.

“The tenants are not going to sit down and take another speculative landlord who is going to harass them and try and raise the rent,” she said.

Lone Star, Brookfield Financial and Vantage Properties all declined to comment for the article.

To hear directly from protestors, please visit http://bit.ly/MT_74.

Inquilinos del Alto Manhattan demandan contestaciones

Edificios pautados para ejecución de hipotecas tienen problemático historial de manejo 

Historia, fotos y videos por Sherry Mazzocchi

Celia Weaver was one of the organizers: “The tenants are not going to sit down.”
Celia Weaver fue una de las organizadoras: “los
inquilinos no se van a sentar”.

Evelyn Tavárez y cerca de otros 30 residentes del Norte de Manhattan se reunieron al frente del 888 de la Séptima Avenida, a solo pasos de Columbus Circle, el jueves, 27 de septiembre.

No estaban ahí para ver los lugares de interés, visitar el Parque Central o recoger algunos lujosos artículos del Centro Time Warner.

Ellos estaban en negocios oficiales.

Los inquilinos reunidos cantaban y llevaban letreros que leían, entre otros mensajes, “No se metan con los inquilinos”.

Todos describieron la vivienda en edificios de apartamentos que están plagados de problemas. Las violaciones incluyen infestación de ratas y cucarachas. Pintura pelada contaminada con asbestos. Moho. Un apartamento hasta le falta la puerta del baño.

Junto con el Concejal de la ciudad de Nueva York Ydanis Rodriguez, los inquilinos se pararon ante los rascacielos donde Lone Star Properties, una firma de equidad privada con sede en Texas, tiene su oficina en Nueva York.

El grupo deseaba entregar una carta a la firma que detallaba preocupaciones urgentes sobre sus edificios.

“Estamos aquí para pedir un proceso justo”, dijo el Concejal. “Estamos hablando de más de 2,000 inquilinos en el Norte de Manhattan. Ellos no saben quienes son su gerencia y no saben que va a suceder en el futuro con sus edificios”.

Pero el grupo fue rechazado por la seguridad del edificio.

El Concejal Rodríguez dijo que UHAB y el Concejo, incluyendo a la portavoz Christine Quinn, habían pedido una reunión con Lone Star, pero ellos se negaron.

A principios de este año, Lone Star compró las hipotecas de estos edificios, cuyo dueño es Vantage Properties.

En abril, Lone Star presentó la ejecución de hipoteca a 16 edificios localizados en Inwood y Washington Heights.

Those rallying held up signs of protest.
Aquellos reunidos levantaban letreros de protesta.

Esas propiedades ahora están de venta.

Tavarez y los demás manifestantes viven en esos edificios.

La ejecución de hipoteca no es buena para los inquilinos, según Dan DeSloover, co-director de organización y politica de ‘Urban Homesteading Assistance Board (UHAB)’, un grupo que defiende inquilinos.

“Con una ejecución de hipoteca, las condiciones se pueden inclinar más hacia el mal estado” dijo el.

DeSloover dijo que Vantage está tratando de salirse de las ejecuciones y vender los edificios a un precio mayor que la hipoteca.

“Si los están tratando de vender por más,” dijo DeSloover, “los inquilinos están preocupados de que las cosas solo se van a poner peor”.

Vantage ha sido repetidamente acusado de hostigar personas para sacarlos de sus apartamentos y así poder subir las rentas y generar mayores ganancias.

Vantage también se ha ganado una reputación de no arreglar los problemas y dejar que las condiciones se deterioren, otra manera de forzar a los inquilinos a mudarse.

En el 2010, el entonces Fiscal General Andrew Cuomo amenazó con demandar a Vantage por “darle a los inquilinos comunicaciones legales sin fundamento” y “frívolos procedimientos de desahucio de vivienda”. Vantage arregló fuera de la corte, pagando $1 millón en multas, lo cual la mayoría fue hacia los inquilinos.

De acuerdo con el sitio web de la agencia ‘Housing Preservation and Development’, el edificio de Tavarez tiene 137 violaciones.

Tavarez dijo que los problemas de su edificio han persistido por años.

“Ellos no pintan y no arreglan nada”, dijo ella.

“They don’t paint and they don’t fix anything,” said tenant Evelyn Tavarez.
“Ellos no pintan y no arreglan nada”, dijo la
inquilina Evelyn Tavarez de Vantage Properties,
quien actualmente maneja su edificio.

Catie Marshall, una portavoz de ‘HPD’, dijo que la agencia estaba monitoreando la situación.

Los edificios están bajo la iniciativa ‘Proactive Preservation,’ que se enfoca en edificios que están en muy mala condición.

“Conocemos a estos edificios,” dijo Marshall. “Nos concierne que los inquilinos puedan estar en vivienda saludable e asequible.”

Ella añadió que ‘HPD’ se ha reunido con los dueños actuales, esos quienes aguardan las hipotecas, y el recibidor apuntado oficialmente por la corte para expresarles a todos ellos las mismas preocupaciones.

Un respresentante de Lone Star, Jed Repko, de la empresa de relaciones publicas ‘Joele Frank, Wilkinson Brimmer Katcher’ dijo lo siguiente sobre la venta de los edificios: “Estamos en contacto con el dueño de las propiedades, el receptor designado por la corte y las demás personas y tenemos la esperanza de que un resultado productivo se alcanzará.”

En su carta a Lone Star, DeSloover de UHAB dijo que los inquilinos estaban alarmados de que la oferta estaba siendo marcada en $50 millones – $6 millones más que la deuda actual. También indicó que se les ha dicho a los compradores que aumenten las bajas rentas del mercado.

Sin embargo, Tavarez argumentó que Vantage consistentemente ha cargado rentas más altas a los inquilinos de lo que actualmente deben.

“Cuando recibimos la factura de renta todos los meses”, dijo ella, “nos están cobrando más dinero del que se supone. Y te llevan a corte”, dijo ella.

Otro protestante, Juan Carlo, quien ha vivido en el mismo edificio cerca de la Calle Dyckman por más de 10 años, también dijo que le cobraban de más.

“Eso no es correcto”, dijo el. “Hemos vivido ahí por mucho tiempo”.

“Muchas personas en el edificio no hablan porque no conocen el lenguaje”, añadió Tavarez. Ella dijo que aunque varios residentes han vivido ahí por dos décadas, la gerencia del edificio no devuelve sus llamadas.

La ejecución de hipotecas es una amenaza para los residentes, pero también puede servir como una oportunidad, dijo Celia Weaver, organizadora de inquilinos de UHAB.

“Nuestra esperanza es que publicando los problemas aquí, Lone Star comience a escuchar las preocupaciones de los inquilinos”, dijo ella.

Councilmember Ydanis Rodriguez and Dan DeSloover, co-director at Urban Homesteading Assistance Board (UHAB), rallied with tenants outside equity firm Lone Star’s offices.
El Concejal Ydanis Rodríguez y Dan DeSloover,
codirector de la junta de ‘Urban Homesteading
Asistance’ (UHAB, pos sus siglas en inglés),
reunidos con inquilinos en los predios de las
oficinas de la firma Lone Star.

Ellos también desean que los compradores potenciales sepan que los edificios tienen varias violaciones y los inquilinos pagan rentas bajas.

Y desean que Lone Star sepa, dijo Weaver, que son inquilinos de mucho tiempo quienes no van para ningún otro sitio.

“Los inquilinos no se van a sentar y van a tomar a otro dueño especulativo que los va a hostigar y tratar de aumentarles la renta”, dijo ella.

A UHAB le gustaría ver a un contratista con un entendimiento de preservación para comprar los edificios. “Alguien que esté localizado en el vecindario, alguien que sea bueno con viviendas a bajo costo”, es como DeSloover lo describió.

Vantage rechazo comentar para el artículo.

Para escuchar directamente de los protestantes, favor de visitar http://bit.ly/MT_74.

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