Thursday, July 17, 2008

Culture of Corruption?

“I didn’t see anything unfair about it.”
-- Congressman Charlie B. Rangel (D-NY) on the four rent-stabilized (read "below market values") apartments he rents from the Olnick Organization, a "Big Real State" outfit.

At Lenox Terrace, the luxury development in Harlem, management uses two sets of standards when it comes to rent-stabilized tenants, many residents say.

For the select group of prominent or politically connected apartment dwellers like Representative Charles B. Rangel, Lenox Terrace provides below-market accommodations and does little to scrutinize whether the arrangements comply with rent-stabilization laws.

For other residents, however, the owner has a different posture: aggressively enforcing even arcane provisions of the regulations, threatening costly court battles to drive tenants from their rent-stabilized homes, and using other tactics that some housing advocates describe as harassment.

Although landlord-tenant battles, especially in rent-stabilized buildings, are a staple of New York life, residents and housing advocates say that after the Harlem real estate market began to soar around 2000, the situation at Lenox Terrace grew intense. The Olnick Organization, the owner of the development, brought in a new manager at that time and began aggressively seeking to evict tenants from rent-stabilized units.

While some of those evicted were clearly in violation of rent laws, tenants say the company went beyond those cases, pressuring legitimate residents to give up their homes.

Gov. David A. Paterson, who maintains a rent-stabilized apartment at Lenox Terrace, says he was “alarmed” by the evictions when he was asked to mediate between tenants and the management company in 2004. A state senator at the time, Mr. Paterson suspected that the company was going beyond the letter of the law, he said this week in an interview.

Court documents and company correspondence since 2006 underscore the company’s aggressiveness. One man, who was going blind and could no longer write his monthly rent check, was threatened with eviction for having a relative pay the rent from a joint account. Another tenant faced eviction proceedings because he objected when Lenox Terrace demanded that he sign separate leases for his apartment and for his parking space. A husband whose illness forced him to move from the apartment is fighting to prevent his wife and child from being evicted.

Mr. Rangel said last week that he never considered that he was getting a special deal from the Olnick Organization, even as he acknowledged that he had for years been allowed to lease four rent-stabilized units at Lenox Terrace at about half the market rate.

That kind of generosity from Olnick, however, is unheard of for those lacking political power, other tenants say.

While Rangel paid $3,894 a month for the four units he rents in the Lenox Complex in 2007, the Olnick Organization rents similar apartments for $7,465 - $8,125 a month. Each.

Rangel's hypocrisy is in full bloom here. While he enjoys "rent-stabilized" living, his fellow tenants and constituents are being heartlessly evicted so their apartments can be rented at market values. I wonder when Rangel is going to start blaming President Bush.

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