Volume 19 Issue 49 | April 20 - 26, 2007


‘Mass eviction’ rule needs to be clarified

Hundreds of renters flooded E. Third St. between Second and First Aves. on Saturday to show solidarity with the tenants of 47 E. Third St. Landlords Alistair and Catherine Economakis are trying to use the owner-occupancy provision to empty the 15-unit, five-story tenement and make it a private mansion. Although occupancy evictions on this scale are unusual, it continues to be a problem all over Lower Manhattan, particularly in Tribeca.

Supporting the Economakises’ effort, the Appellate Division recently found against the tenants’ lawsuit: The Appellate Division ruled that the state Division of Housing and Community Renewal has no power to stop or even review such an eviction effort.

However, we feel, contrary to this misguided ruling, that D.H.C.R. must assert more, not less, oversight on owner-occupancy eviction efforts. Last year, at a rally against demolition eviction — another growing concern — local politicians expressed hope Eliot Spitzer would become governor and reform D.H.C.R. In recent years, landlords have tried these “phony evictions” at 131 Duane St. in Tribeca and 7 Dutch St. in the Financial District. We’re well into Spitzer’s first term, though, and haven’t seen action on this front. Similarly, Attorney General Andrew Cuomo must step up and enforce the state’s rent-regulation laws in these cases. And Mayor Mike Bloomberg has to stop taking a pass.

Even free-marketers like Bloomberg realize we can’t afford simply to create more affordable housing. Tax breaks and subsidies will never be enough. We must preserve what’s here. Given maximum demand in finite space, the pressure to drive up rents will always exist.
Spitzer pledged to be a different governor. He can start by beefing up tenant protections provided in the Rent Stabilization Law and Code that were weakened under his predecessor, George Pataki.

Demolition evictions should be granted only when an owner plans to raze a building. It was an administrative ruling by officials at D.H.C.R. that allowed the term “demolition” to be expanded to include gut renovations of apartments. Now gut rehabs are becoming an accelerated means for aggressive landlords to pursue luxury decontrol.

Now that he’s in charge, Spitzer should press state officials to reinterpret that ruling to rein in phony demolitions.

When it comes to owner-occupancy evictions, the law says an owner may assume “one or more” units for personal use. As the Appellate Division pointed out, the law doesn’t specify a limit. The Court of Appeals may decide differently if they choose to take up the case.

But Spitzer and state legislators can resolve this problem now by clarifying the law’s intent — to allow owners and families to live in their properties — while limiting the percentage or amount of space a landlord may reasonably take over in an already-occupied, rent-regulated building.

Spitzer should also impose real penalties for owners who say they’re taking over rent-regulated apartments to live in them — and then don’t.

Currently, if an owner takes over one or more rent-regulated apartments, he is only required to live there for three years before he can rent it out again at top dollar or sell.

In today’s overheated real estate market, such slack standards are ripe for abuse.

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