Landlord Probed For Forcing Tenants Out

| 17 Feb 2015 | 01:14

The state announced last week that its Tenant Protection Unit is targeting a landlord for forcing Asian-Americans out of their rent-regulated apartments

Chinatown The state's Tenant Protection Unit said Wednesday that a major New York City landlord was under investigation over allegations it forced Asian-American tenants to leave their rent-regulated apartments. State Protection for Tenants Since its creation, the Tenant Protection Unit has: ? Audited landlords' claims for Individual Apartment Improvements, requiring itemized bills to substantiate the real costs of any improvement, as these added improvements can be used to raise an apartment's rent over the $2,500 rent threshold, allowing it to exit regulation. ? Initiated audits which resulted in restoring more than $600,000 in overcharges to tenants who did not know they were paying more than required by the Rent Laws. ? Announced an historic settlement in January 2014 against a landlord who was harassing and intimidating limited English speaking proficiency tenants in Upper Manhattan. ? Assisted New York State Homes and Community Renewal in the eligibility determination of potential landlords for entitlement to state loans/grants/tax credits, by investigating and vetting a potential landlord's financial soundness and mortgage holdings for signs of over-leveraging within their portfolios or allegations of increased tenant turnover through harassment. ? Collaborated with various City agencies to form a joint task force to address the deregulation and destruction of rent-regulated apartments in North Brooklyn and other neighborhoods throughout the City. ? Implemented new rent regulations, at the beginning of 2014, to support the new rent laws, by: clarifying how apartment improvements are calculated and verified; raising the deregulation rent threshold; raising the income threshold; and limiting vacancy bonuses to only one per year. The unit subpoenaed Marolda Properties in a probe into claims the company denied basic services, refused to renew leases, brought groundless evictions and pressured tenants to accept low buyout offers.

The company owns and manages more than 70 buildings in the city and Westchester County. The state said its probe focuses on buildings in Lower Manhattan. The company has owned properties in New York City for several decades and recently expanded their holdings, purchasing a large number of buildings in Chinatown and throughout the Lower East Side.

The state said Marolda threatened to evict one woman in her mid-80s claiming that she wasn't a building resident. That was despite her living there for 40 years and being an active member of a community senior center and religious organization.

In another similar case, Marolda summoned a family to housing court to claim that the family's primary residency was elsewhere, despite the fact that the family has lived in the apartment for decades, has young children attending a neighborhood school, and has no links to another address.

In a statement, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said, "No New Yorker should be forced to live in fear of harassment by their landlord, and today we are taking an action that will help protect thousands of New Yorkers from this kind of abuse. This case is especially egregious because it appears this landlord preys on many tenants who are elderly and whose primary language is not English -- which will not be tolerated in New York state."

Marolda executives did not return a telephone message.

Coordinating with tenants' and tenant advocates, including the Committee against Anti-Asian Violence Organizing Asian Communities, MFY Legal Services, Asian Americans for Equality, University Settlement, and the Cooper Square Committee, the Tenant Protection Unit interviewed tenants who had been told that they were in violation of their leases because their primary residency was elsewhere, without any factual basis. Using common surnames as a basis to tie a tenant to another address, Marolda allegedly targeted individuals and families for eviction, though they have lived exclusively in their apartments for decades.

"We will not tolerate harassment or threats against any tenants and the intimidation and targeting of Asian Americans is completely unacceptable," said Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, whose district covers Chinatown and the Lower East Side. "Many of our seniors, as well as working families, have been able to remain in their neighborhoods because of crucial rent protections."

The Tenant Protection Unit was created by Governor Cuomo in 2012. Since its inception, the Unit's investigators, auditors and attorneys have recaptured more than 32,000 units that landlords had failed to register, restoring them to rent regulation.