Landlords converting their rent-regulated apartments to condominiums and co-operatives have illegally evicted hundreds of elderly tenants and tenants with disabilities, a new class-action lawsuit [PDF] alleges, filed in Kings County Supreme Court on December 1.
Under New York State’s rent control law, landlords must file an “Individual Offering Plan” when seeking to convert their apartments, which must be approved by the state attorney general’s office. However, state law also provides special protections for people over age 62 or with disabilities, requiring landlords to either allow these tenants to remain a renter or buy out the apartment, rather than be forced to pay a new, higher, rent.
The landlords named in the lawsuit argue that these protections only apply when buildings are converted via so-called “eviction plans,” which require that half of the building’s units be purchased by the building’s current tenants.
In the lawsuit, Goldsmith & Fass and Held & Hines LLP assert that these protections apply in so-called “non-eviction plans” as well, referring to plans that only require that current tenants buy 15 percent of the units.
“Plaintiffs allege that a) they have been wrongfully evicted from their homes, and b) the defendants’ failed to perform their contractual obligations to provide the plaintiff’s with lease renewals protected from unconscionable increase in rent, as tenants with special protected rights from unconscionable increases,” the lawsuit states.
The number of rent-regulated apartments in New York City has dropped substantially during the past few decades, many the result of illegal conversions. By some estimates, more than 300,000 apartments have been deregulated just since 2002.
As the plaintiffs see it, this is just another attempt by landlords to illegally remove tenants in pursuit of higher profits.
“These are apartments that are triple in value vacant what they are with a rent-regulated tenant in there,” Marc Held, a partner with Held & Hines, told the Associated Press. “There’s a tremendous financial incentive not to comply with the law.”