The following testimony was presented by Kelley Boyd, a tenant in Washington Heights who has been actively fighting illegal overcharges in her building:
Hello, I am Kelley Boyd and I am a technologist working in the city’s startup movement. I have lived in the Washington Heights neighborhood for over 6 years and have become very active in the community. As an entrepreneur advocate I believe the biggest problem facing our culture is the unbelievable rents in the city. We could start more businesses and bring more fiscal diversity to the city with better rent oversight. Though I believe in a free market - many landlords have gotten the benefits they signed up for whether they deliver the value the city has bargained for or not! Full disclosure - most of my knowledge / experience in this area of springs from my having filed a rent overcharge complaint at HCR. At this time that claim is still in process.
Through the experience I have learned a lot about what is happening in my building – and in many buildings in my area. People are fleeing the exorbitant rents and moving to "WaHi" thinking they are getting a great deal when in reality they are paying "market rates" and over for apartments that should be rent stabilized. The new tenants are unaware that the apartments have been illegally deregulated because of the scheming of well schooled landlords. Our area is being hit especially hard because we are a largely residential neighborhood that has not seen the turnover of other areas which means there are lots of apartments that should be in the $900 - $1200 range but are being rented at $2000 and more. The landlords know how to work and beat the system that is supposed to keep them honest by inflating improvements, claiming false improvements and just filing false documents with HCR. Even if they are not lying, cheating and stealing, LL are in an enviable position as of now. It was reported just yesterday that Manhattan rents have soared 3.5% with median rent at $3200 - rent today is just $13 shy of an all time high!
Owners should bear their fair share of economic burden because their profits are increasing.
I do not begrudge anyone success but I estimate my LL has collected well over a million dollars in illegal overcharge in the last 5 years, and those are just the 5 apartments in my building that I know about! Add to that he inherited the buildings and has no mortgage on them, in fact hold them in trust in Texas to better manage his tax liability. Figure that he owns three buildings with another 11 under management and you can extrapolate that there is a big number to be at years end in someone’s account... he and his kind certainly do not need your help increasing rents and making money off their
I understand that the RGB serves a wide variety of constituents and in doing so you must make determinations that are fair to large and small landlords alike, all the while keeping true to the statutes and the spirit of fairness that tenants rely on you for. It used to be “impossible” to reliably get enough information from “everyone” and their unique situation but I think in real terms it is much easier than it ever has been. As a technologist there are ways to better manage the burden of how to treat landlords and tenants fairly in this process. Small landlords who are absolutely getting squeezed with resource increases and having a tough time with outstanding building repairs and improvements should have the mechanisms in place to apply for an receive relief in the form of increases, waivers or temp variances from codes. I have absolutely no heartburn with that. But there are so many that are not really challenged in their circumstances and are taking advantage of unwitting tenants, and then more that are simply thieves.
The RGB should embrace innovation and craft a process that allows for some kind of "means test" for buildings when rent increases are in review. In my opinion there should be NO MORE RENT INCREASES AT ALL until you have a system in place to grant increases fairly.