Rajkumar suprises pols with Gateway Plaza lawsuit

Downtown Express photo by Terese Loeb Kreuzer Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver offered a friendly hand last week to Jenifer Rajkumar, who praised him at a ceremony honoring Silver, but the speaker has endorsed her opponent in the September primary, Councilmember Margaret Chin.

Jenifer Rajkumar and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver at a ceremony last year honoring the speaker, which took place after he had endorsed her opponent, Councilmember Margaret Chin, in the September primary. Downtown Express photo by Terese Loeb Kreuzer

BY SAM SPOKONY | Citing longstanding complaints of freezing apartments, sky-high electric bills, rising rents and lack of necessary repairs, two Gateway Plaza tenants on Tuesday filed a $100 million class action lawsuit against the complex’s management and the Battery Park City Authority.

One of those tenants, Maureen Koetz a former vice-president of Gateway’s tenant association is the lead plaintiff in the suit, which has yet to officially include any other plaintiffs. The other, Democratic District Leader Jenifer Rajkumar, is an attorney whose firm, Sanford Heisler, filed the suit in State Supreme Court.

The lawsuit seeks recovery of rent and electricity overpayments, as well as an injunction requiring the LeFrak Organization which manages the six-building, 1,700-unit complex on a ground lease from the B.P.C.A. to finally rectify Gateway’s “defective” conditions.

The suit, which came as a surprise to others involved in the issue, comes in the middle of ongoing negotiations between, on one side, LeFrak and the B.P.C.A., and on the other, the Gateway tenant association, State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, State Senator Daniel Squadron and City Councilmember Margaret Chin. It’s unclear whether the suit could potentially derail those negotiations, which seek to mitigate the very same longstanding complaints over which Rajkumar’s firm filed the action.

This is about giving the tenants a voice,” Rajkumar told Downtown Express in an April 2 phone interview. “Now is the time for the tenants to come together and make a bold effort to take care of this problem once and for all.”

She said that she and her office had already been “deluged” by around 100 other Gateway tenants hoping to join the class action suit, although Koetz was still the only official plaintiff as of 5 p.m. Wednesday.

The Gateway tenant association, however, will not be joining the suit, and has now distanced itself entirely from the action. Glenn Plaskin, the T.A. president, told this newspaper on Wednesday that his board has voted unanimously to remain neutral in the matter. 

We have chosen the path of negotiation,” said Plaskin, “and we consider ourselves fortunate to have the support of our elected officials, and the strong support of B.P.C.A. Chairman Dennis Mehiel. They have all exerted a coordinated effort to improve living conditions at Gateway, and we as a tenant association will continue to do everything within our power to have management comply with what is in the best interest of tenants.”

The tenant leader further stressed that the vast majority of the complex’s approximately 5,000 tenants are not, at this point, involved in the litigation. Plaskin also added that he, along with others involved in the ongoing negotiations, was not aware that the suit was going to be filed on Tuesday.

We’ve been talking about the possibility of doing this for a long time, so it should not have been a surprise to anyone,” Rajkumar said when asked why she and Koetz did not inform Plaskin or any of the elected officials before announcing the suit.

But I welcome anyone who wants to collaborate, including the elected officials,” she said, while adding that she has not attempted to make contact with the electeds since it was filed.

Both Rajkumar and Koetz have clashed with two of the elected officials currently involved in the Gateway negotiations.

Rajkumar notably attempted to oust Chin in the councilmember’s bid for reelection last year, although Chin beat her by 17 points in a hard-fought primary battle. Rajkumar said on Wednesday that she has “no current plans” to run for elected office again.

Koetz, a Republican, and a former U.S. Air Force assistant secretary, told the media in February that she plans to run for Silver’s office, citing his alleged mismanagement of the Vito Lopez sexual harassment scandal.

Neither Chin nor Silver addressed the new suit in statements sent to Downtown Express on Wednesday.

Chin said in her statement that she will “continue to work with local elected officials and Gateway residents to ensure that LeFrak honors [its] commitment” to make the desparately needed repairs.

Silver said he will continue working with Gateway’s T.A., the other electeds and the B.P.C.A. to address the complex’s “deplorable” conditions. “I will continue that effort by pursuing all available options for ensuring that these [poorly insulated] windows are replaced,” the statement continued.

The only elected official willing to talk about the lawsuit — albeit briefly — was Squadron, who, in a phone interview Wednesday, called the suit a “separate effort” from the negotiations being undertaken by he and the other electeds.

I think this just shows how frustrated people are about the living conditions in their apartments,” the state senator said. “The [lawsuit and the neogtiations] are separate facts that lead to the same conclusion, which is that we have a serious issue here with those living conditions.”

Squadron added that, from the perspective of he and the other electeds, the suit will not stop their negotiations with LeFrak and the B.P.C.A. from going forward as they have been for more than a year, since LeFrak publicly promised to make the building repairs and upgrades.

For its part, LeFrak responded to the lawsuit by calling it “baseless and without merit.”

The property provided the plaintiff [Koetz] with two brand new Frigidaire heat pump units on December 9,” a representative of the developer said in a statement Tuesday. “All equipment at the property is capable of meeting all code standards for climate comfort. Currently there are no unaddressed HPD violations for lack of heat at the property. The property is eminently habitable and many residents enjoy long tenure at Gateway; some have even lived at the property continuously since its opening in 1986. The plaintiff clearly enjoys living at Gateway because she herself renewed her own lease in December 2013.”

The B.P.C.A. declined to comment.

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14 Responses to Rajkumar suprises pols with Gateway Plaza lawsuit

  1. GatewayFreezing

    Thank you to Jenifer Rajkumar for standing up for the tenants. It's about time someone did something about this terrible problem we have in Gateway.

  2. While I've not been a big fan of Rajkumar in the past I applaud her for doing what Plaskin, Galloway, and the rest of the incompetents on the GPTA board refused to do :TAKE ACTION!

    Rajkumar should be running the GPTA, not the cabal of do-nothings currently in power.

  3. 355 south end

    jenifer rajkumar is our hero. i supported her from the beginning and now you see why. leaders need to stand up and actually do something when the community needs help. the problem at gateway has gone on way too long. filing lawsuit was the right thing to do

  4. Freezing in your home, or face having to pay $600-$1,000 a month in electricity whle STILL freezing just isn't right. This situation has been ongoing for many, many years, and while there are meetings and meetings, with promises and promises, nothing has ever improved.

    Calling 311 and complaining means nothing…Gateway provides heat. It's just incompetent & incorrectly installed. Since we pay Gateway, not Con Ed, there's something more than fishy going on.
    I'd like to see a many pronged approach to addressing this issue in our so called 'luxury rental' complex!

  5. GPTA Board Member

    Jenifer Rajkumar and her co-plaintiff, Maureen Koetz, are NOT heroes.
    They have mistakenly included in their list of defendants the Battery Park City Authority, which has fully supported our Gateway tenants for decades. It was thanks to the BPCA and Speaker Silver that many Gateway tenants enjoy continued rent stabilization. The idea that the BPCA is now being sued by two disgruntled tenants, who hope to gain a platform and political advantage by this suit, is ludicrous. Despite what some naysayers at Gateway declare about GPTA, if it wasn't for GPTA such tenants would not have a stabilized rent. Likewise, GPTA is now working to protect more tenants in a myriad of ways. Plaskin and Galloway, neither of whom have political aspirations, have worked tirelessly on behalf of tenants, and their efforts have always paid off.

    • You're a fake (probably Plaskin or Galloway tooting his own horn) . And if you are indeed a GPTA Board member, shame on you for not even having the stones to identify yourself.

      This is what the GPTA gives Gateway residents: No action for years and years, and Board members who are too ashamed of their incompetence to identify themselves. Plaskin and Galloway have to go. They should do all of Gateway a favor and quit the GPTA and let some people who are willing to take action get something done! Do nothings, get out of the way!

  6. I personally know many members of the Gateway Tenants Association who actually are huge fans of Rajkumar's lawsuit. Why wouldn't we like someone fighting for us? And by the way, Jeff Galloway ran for political office in 2011 and lost and Plaskin is always cozying up to the pols, so you are incorrect that they don't have political aspirations.

  7. FreezinginGateway

    As a freezing Gateway tenant, I applaud any efforts that focus attention on the structural issues at Gateway. However, to paint MS Koetz and Ms Rajkumar as anything but the opportunists they are is naive. Ms.Koetz is running for State Senate as a Republican in a heavily Democratic district. This issue gives her the platform she needs. If she were really interested in improving life at Gateway, she would not have quit the GPTA board after one year. (I voted for her in 2012, but she was not on the ballot in 2013.)

    In response to other postings attacking the GPTA. The GPTA has been extremely effective at resolving issues in addition to rent stabilization that impact me. LeFrak tried to ban my lab and other dogs over 40 pounds from Gateway. The GPTA stopped them. When the smell of garbage made my apartment uninhabitable, the GPTA got management to make changes. When management ignored requests for repairs, the GPTA intervented.

    A few years ago another tenant sued Gateway over the windows issue. He settled and received new windows. Hopefully, Ms Koetz and Ms Rajkumar are in this to help all tenants -not just themselves.

    • Two tenants are fighting for your rights, and you have a problem with that? You need to get your head checked.
      The real opportunists here are Shelly (who is being funded underhand by LeFrak), Chin (who is in the pocket of LeFrak and other real estate moguls), and the other elected officials. Rajkumar and Koetz are our hope to make a change, both in gateway and for the community. We as tenants need to stand by their lawsuit on our behalf.

      • FreezinginGateway

        Google how class action lawsuits work. The court will probably not be able to force LeFrak to replace our leaky windows. therefore, a monetary settlement is likely. The lawyer and lead plaintifs get the largest amount of any money paid in a settlemnt. So unless you plan to join the lawsuit you will get very little money.

        To say that these women are our hope is pathetic.

        Only time will tell if MS Koetz and Ms Rajkumar continue to be concerned about Gateway after the election.

        • The previous poster is misinformed and everything in the post is incorrect. This class action can in fact compel LeFrak to fix the windows. That is why the complaint asks for "injunctive relief." If injunctive relief is granted, LeFrak will have to fix the windows.

          The previous poster is also misinformed about monetary rewards. Since this is filed in state court, the lead plaintiff will probably receive little, if any, money.

          And by the way, Rajkumar and Koetz have a long track record in the community that probably rivals anything you've ever done. To spew the "opportunist" label at them must mean that you have ulterior motives. Perhaps you were sent by Glenn Plaskin and Jeff Galloway, or by Shelly.

          • FreezinginGateway

            You can write your revisionist history all you want but Ms Koettz has not have a long track record on the downtown community. She was on the GPTA board for one year. She was also a member of the Bush-43 administration so could not have been in NYC very long. She is championing this cause only because she wants to rally voters to her side in her attempt to oust Mr Silver. . At least Ms. Rajkumar has been district leader for a few years.

            "If" is the operative word in your first paragraph. Injunctive relief is rarely granted, but for all of our sakes, I really hope I am wrong..

            Call me ungrateful but I refuse to declare someone who is using our misery to advance themselves a hero!

            BTW are you sure you're not an employee of MS Koetz's campaign or even Ms Koetz herself?

  8. Well, Go Rajkumar. I hope she succeeds. Gateway residents have been cheated for years, everyone knows it.

  9. Rudolph Rassendyll

    It cannot hurt to have the matter before the courts. At least it is additional pressure. Aging properties, not maintained apparently for years, perhaps fundamentally flawed ab initio, perhaps never fully recovered from 9/11, perhaps never fully insulated from major storm damage — all major landlord problems. BPCA is tainted — it collects on the ground lease. Mr. Silver is too long in office without effective challenge. A TA association that negotiates forever?… Yeah, additional pressure to Do Something Now seems reasonable. The major issue: Who Pays The Fees?

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