NYC Landlord Probes for Lease Violators

The Associated Press
Friday, June 1, 2007; 11:46 AM

NEW YORK -- Residents of one of the last middle-class bastions in Manhattan say their new landlord is using Orwellian tactics in an attempt to drive them out and raise rents.

The residents say private investigators are gathering evidence on them from public records, property deeds and credit applications, searching for proof that might be used to kick them out of Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village, a rent-stabilized complex recently purchased for $5.4 billion by global real-estate firm Tishman Speyer Properties.

"It's like they're spying on us!" said Jeanette Besosa, a resident who works at the United Nations and got a notice from this company this spring.

Tishman Speyer argues that it is simply trying to purge leaseholders who abuse the rent rules.

The huge apartment complex is rent-stabilized, meaning only nominal rent increases are allowed annually unless the tenant is persuaded to leave or breaks a rule, such as living elsewhere more than half the year. Tenants lucky enough to hold a lease on one of the 8,000 units pay a fraction of the market rate, allowing them a lifestyle unavailable to many New Yorkers.

In the past few months, hundreds of tenants have said they received non-renewal notices citing suspicions that they reside elsewhere for at least 183 days a year. They said they were stunned by the scope of the information listed in the notices.

Besosa was accused of keeping residences in Florida, Pennsylvania and Manhattan's Washington Heights. She is assembling a thick binder of records demonstrating the Pennsylvania home is a weekend retreat, the Washington Heights town house is an investment property and the Florida address is her son's rented college apartment.

Suzanne Ryan said the company ordered her family out of Peter Cooper Village by the end of May after discovering that she and her husband owned a Long Island beachfront house.

"It's a little Cape. We had fixed it up ourselves," Ryan said. But the family used it sporadically as a summer beach house, she said, and their residence is in the city where her two children attend Catholic school.

City Councilman Daniel Garodnick, who lives in the complex, said residents have packed a series of clinics on tenants legal rights.

"These are scary letters to get," he said. "I think there are a number of legal, legitimate tenants who are getting caught up in this pursuit."

Tishman Speyer declined to comment on specific cases, but said in a written statement that it was routine for city landlords to contact tenants suspected of illegally holding leases.

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