Volume 17, Number 51 | May 13 - 19, 2005

Downtown Express photo by Lorenzo Ciniglio

Laurence Gluck, owner of Independence Plaza North, went to a tenant meeting last week to hear neighbor complaints.

Landlord drops in to hear Independence Plaza complaints

By Albert Amateau

Laurence Gluck, landlord of the Independence Plaza North residential complex in Tribeca, made a surprise entrance at the May 5 I.P.N Tenants Association meeting and got an earful of complaints and anxious concerns.

Gluck, who acquired I.P.N. two years ago and last year began the complicated process of taking the 1,329-unit development out of the rent-protection of the state and federal Mitchell-Lama program, entered the meeting about 45 minutes after it started and remained until it ended nearly two hours later.

He responded to a couple of the issues, left others unanswered, provided some satisfaction, but left many of the more than 100 residents still anxious at the end of the meeting conducted by Diane Lapson, president of the tenants association.

Uncertainty remained about the eligibility of some tenants to receive federal rent assistance vouchers. Also unresolved was a threat that another rent protection program would not be available for a group of current tenants who expected to be covered.

One complaint at the May 5 meeting came from residents of many of the I.P.N. townhouses whose hot water stopped running on March 17 and did not come back on until April 7. “It could have been prevented by following maintenance procedures recommended by the staff, and we expect a rent rebate,” said Lapson.

Gluck said the hot water problem was due to a blender valve that had to be replaced by the manufacturer. Gluck indicated he would determine the value of a rent rebate for tenants whose hot water was out for three weeks.

Residents of 40 Harrison St. were without gas for cooking and laundry driers from Jan. 19 to Feb. 22 of this year because of a gas leak. Gluck’s company, Stellar Management, soon provided hot plates for cooking to the affected apartments.

On Feb. 15, Stellar told tenants that the fault was Con Edison’s because the utility company had problems finding the leak and scheduling emergency repairs. After gas was restored, Stellar offered affected tenants a $30 rent rebate, but only if they returned the hot plates and signed a waiver absolving the management company of any further liability.

Gluck said the demand for the return of the hot plates was “silly” and acknowledged that the offer of a $30 rent rebate for the gas interruption was too low. “I wasn’t aware of the offer when it was made and we intend to enter a dialogue with tenants to determine an appropriate rebate,” he said, receiving a burst of applause.

But Gluck did not comment on the management demand for a waiver of liability. John Scott and other tenant leaders said they would resist the waiver. “If we have to take him to court, we will take him to court,” said Scott.

A longer term concern involved the eligibility of many current low-to-moderate-income tenants for federal enhanced vouchers, commonly known as sticky vouchers, which pay for the portions of rents that exceed one-third of the tenants’ income.

Lapson said that 120 current voucher tenants were told in a management letter they had to sign lease renewals immediately. But many whose leases do not expire for several months, have not signed and have been threatened with losing eligibility. Some of those 120 tenants are old and others might not be proficient in English, Lapson added.

Gluck, however, replied that the city Department of Housing Preservation and Development, which administers the vouchers, has ordered the lease renewals and Stellar Management was not involved in the demand. Moreover, he said H.P.D. could deny the vouchers for tenants who didn’t renew by a Fri. May 13 deadline that the agency imposed.

Lapson said later that the tenants association had not been aware of the May 13 deadline until Gluck mentioned it at the meeting. “We’ve been trying to contact all 120 of them but as of today, 62 of them have not signed renewals,” she said on May 11.

Lapson said she intended to call H.P.D. before the deadline to find out if the renewal deadline could be extended. Fifty-seven percent of I.P.N. residents who were tenants at the time of the Mitchell-Lama buyout agreement last year are voucher tenants and 20 percent of them had not signed renewals, Gluck said.

A smaller group of current tenants in place before last year who are not eligible for vouchers because their income is too high are in the Landlord Assisted Program that pegs rent to Rent Stabilization Board decisions that sets rents annually for the city’s 900,000 rent-stabilized tenants.

Six of the LAP tenants at I.P.N have not signed renewal applications, but Gluck declared that Stellar Management would accept them into the program.

The plight of another group of 19 tenants who are all self-employed is also a problem but was not on the May 5 agenda. Those tenants have been ruled ineligible for vouchers and Stellar has not accepted them as LAP tenants, Lapson said later. A lawsuit to keep them as protected tenants at I.P.N is currently pending before State Supreme Court Justice Marcy Friedman.

Another issue that Gluck did not mention was a window replacement project. Lapson recalled the project began a year ago at 310 Greenwich St. but was stopped when tenants discovered the window frames were full of asbestos. The association then hired a consultant to develop a protocol for handling the carcinogenic material, said Lapson.

The window project resumed last Sept. 24, but tenants found that employees of the contractor replacing the windows were not using special vacuum cleaner filters that prevent particles from being exhausted, as required by the protocol.

Several tenants at the May 5 meeting also said they resented the fact that new market-rate I.P.N. tenants receive new appliances, while old voucher and LAP tenants who move into different apartments in the complex get old appliances.
“It has been a nightmare,” said Lapson, describing the year since March 2004 when Stellar Management and the tenants association signed the agreement that allows old Mitchell-Lama tenants to remain in their homes at affordable rents. “We’ve been dealing with so many things that we haven’t been able to get to many of these quality-of-life issues,” she said. “There have been lots of trials and tribulations, but we’ve survived the World Trade Center attacks and we’ll survive this too,” she added.


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