Monday, June 17, 2013

Testimony: Ben May

The following testimony was read by Ben May, a tenant in Washington Heights whose building was purchased by multi-billion dollar real estate investment trust:

Although I am testifying on behalf of tenants, ironically I find myself actually representing a group of landlords who are not present today. My landlords are John Harrison Streicker and his daughter Margaret Streicker-Porres. Mr. Streicker founded his real estate company, Sentinel, in 1969 and grew it into the $4.5 billion company that it is today. Sentinel owns properties in 28 states, around 10% of which are in the Northeast of the United States. Ms. Streicker-Porres founded Newcastle Realty Services, our management company and one of almost 500 subsidiaries of Sentinel, in 2004. Today Newcastle manages $400m (according to their website) worth of Sentinel's assets in the New York city area. 
When our building was purchased, for under $10 million two years ago, Newcastle promptly took away every preferential rent, and raised the rents on every non-regulated unit in our building substantially. As a result, around a dozen tenants moved out. All of those units were gut renovated and all have been since filled, at prices in most cases double or more than the prior monthly rents. In one particular case, an elderly couple in a rent controlled unit, the rent quadrupled for the new tenants. Our building of around 50 units now has approximately a half dozen one- and two-bedroom units remaining that are rent stabilized, which range in price from $900/mo to just under $2000/mo. 
I sympathize with the plight of the small landlords who have testified here today. I think however that the board may be getting a skewed picture of reality when it is the small landlords that testify and those like my landlords are not present to tell their stories. I ask that the board consider all landlords in New York City, and keep in mind that there are a large number of large, rich, powerful, and intelligent landlords in addition to the small resource-poor ones that have spoken here today. 
Finally, I find it very interesting to hear from landlords today that the only thing the board should consider is the incomes from regulated units. As far as I know, with the exception of condominiums and coops, when landlords buy and sell buildings, they are buying and selling all the units in a building simultaneously. So it seems strange to me to not consider the income of the entire building, rather than individual apartments, since the unit of ownership is the whole building, not just individual apartments within that building. 
I ask that the board consider increases on the low end of the proposed range.

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