BY COLIN MIXSON
The ongoing class-action lawsuit against the landlord and management of Battery Park City’s Gateway Plaza is getting nasty, with a former deputy mayor accusing the head of the tenants association of intimidating plaintiffs on behalf of Gateway’s landlord — a charge he vehemently denies.
Gateway tenant and chairwoman of Community Board 1’s Battery Park City Committee Ninfa Segarra says that shortly after she agreed to join the lawsuit, Gateway Plaza Tenants Association president Glenn Plaskin threatened her lease.
“Mr. Plaskin told me he found out I joined the Gateway class action… then asked me if I understood the ‘dangers’ involved in the case,” Segarra testified in a Sept. 6 affidavit filed in support of a cease-and-desist motion accusing Plaskin of acting on behalf Gateway’s management and landlord to convince plaintiffs to drop out of the lawsuit.
Plaskin emphatically rejected Segarra’s accusations in a responding affidavit, denying that he has ever threatened a Gateway tenant, or ever acted as an agent of the lawsuit defendants.
“I have never threatened any tenant, nor would I,” said Plaskin. “As President of the Gateway Plaza Tenants Association, I advocate for the rights of the tenants and for improving the quality of life at Gateway. I absolutely do not work for Gateway management.”
Segarra, who served as a deputy mayor for Rudy Giuliani, had agreed to join the lawsuit to replace other plaintiffs representing the class who dropped out, potentially scuttling the class-action suit.
The class action was first brought against Marina Towers Associates and Gateway Plaza Management in 2014 by former Vice President of the Gateway Tenants Association Maureen Koetz with fellow Gateway tenant Jenifer Rajkumar, a lawyer with Sanford Heisler. Their lawsuit alleged that tenants were forced to endure freezing temperatures and pay exorbitant heating bills as a result of “defective” windows and heating units at the six-building, 1,712-unit complex.
The suit was later refiled, however, after law firms Morgan & Morgan and Newman Ferrara, who were also planning to file a lawsuit against Gateway, accused Rajkumar and Sanford Heisler of plagiarizing complaint documents that they claimed to have written. The three firms resolved the dispute and joined forces on the lawsuit a week later, withdrawing the claim of plagiarism. As the lawsuit proceeded, Gateway tenants David Spencer and Barbara Stoebel took over as lead plaintiffs in the suit.
In August, the plaintiffs’ attorneys filed another motion requesting that Stoebel and Spencer be replaced as the suit’s named plaintiffs by Gateway tenants Pauline Wolf — who has since withdrawn from the suit — and Segarra, who will become the sole remaining plaintiff when and if the judge approves the motion.
Segarra alleges that she was approached by Plaskin just days after the motion to include her as a named plaintiff were filed with the courts, and that he insinuated that Gateway’s landlord would refuse to renew her lease if she was indeed named in the suit, according to court documents.
“[Plaskin] stated something to the effect of: “Don’t you want to get a lease renewal? Participating in a lawsuit can cause you problems,” read the affidavit filed earlier this month.
The plaintiffs’ attorneys are now leveraging Segarra’s testimony against Plaskin in order to obtain a cease-and-desist order against the tenant’s association president, and approve discovery of any correspondences between Plaskin and the defendants, according to court documents.
In his response, Plaskin said that Segarra had distorted his comments to her, and that he actually told her the lawsuit was complicating his ongoing efforts renew an agreement with Gateway Plaza’s landlord, the LeFrak Organization to extend rent stabilization beyond 2020.
Furthermore, Plaskin said that, as president of the tenants association, he has remained neutral in regards to the class action lawsuit and, as such, has in the past declined to provide interviews on the suit or provide any statements at tenant association meetings other than to state that the GPTA board voted unanimously to remain neutral, he testified in an affidavit filed on Sept. 24.
Plaskin acknowledged that did call one of the plaintiffs’ lawyers earlier this year about dropping the suit, testifying in his affidavit that he initially expressed concern that the lawsuit may harm the building’s ability to retain its rent stabilized status, before inquiring as to whether it could be dropped.
“Gateway has commenced a window replacement project,” said a spokesperson for the management. “The project is expected to be complete by fall 2017 pending any unforeseen delays.”