Briarwood tenants cry foul at charges

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The landlord denies the allegations and called them "absolutely inaccurate."

Backed by City Councilman James Gennaro (D-Fresh Meadows) and a housing advocacy program in Flushing, the tenants association is calling for a roof-to-cellar inspection by the city's Department of Housing Preservation and Development.

Tenants say the findings could help them prove their case and recover money paid in rent increases for two major projects.

The dispute involves roof replacement and installation of boiler-burners Argo Corp. says it made several years ago in each of the 22 buildings.

The complex is behind the Queens County Criminal Court Building, several blocks north of Queens Boulevard and near the Van Wyck Expressway.

After each project, the company filed a rent increase request with the state's Department of Housing and Community Renewal to cover the cost of the work.

The rent hikes, which included temporary and permanent increases for each project, are known as major capital improvement increases and were approved.

The permanent increases amount to several dollars a month - $7.06 for the roofs and $3.03 for the boiler-burners - for every room in each apartment.

But a tenants association leader, speaking on condition of anonymity, said she and other residents believe the company's MCI requests were fraudulent and the projects never completed.

Residents "never saw trucks, equipment ... tar" or other material that would have been used to replace the roofs, the tenant leader said.

Moreover, she said a number of residents living on the top floors of the complex have complained of leaks in their ceilings.

She said other residents also question the installation of boiler-burners Argo Corporation says it made. "These things are huge æ they're big monsters and you're talking 22 buildings," she said. "Where are they?"

While the rent hikes for the two MCI projects may seem relatively small, the tenant leader said, many residents are elderly and have trouble affording even those charges.

She also said she does not want to do any harm to the landlord by questioning the work and seeking redress. "We're just defending our rights," she said.

The association has received the backing of Kevin Squires, housing director of the Pomonok Neighborhood Center in Flushing.

Squires, whose Housing Assistance Unit helped the Argo residents organize, said: "I see a real validity to their complaints."

Squires also said an inspection by city officials might help convince state officials "to reopen the case."

If the landlord simply made roof repairs instead of replacing them, as some tenants claim, they should be charged for the work "but not for a brand new roof," Squires said. The difference is several hundred thousand dollars.

Gennaro sent a letter to the city's Department of Housing and Preservation Development calling for an inspection. A spokeswoman for the agency said the request is under review.

The councilman said the residents "have leaks and mold and other problems that justify an inspection."

Lynn Whiting, Argo Corporation's management director, said the association's claims are "absolutely inaccurate." The corporation put new, rubberized roofs on each of the 22 buildings, she said, and also installed the boiler-burners.

In applying for MCI increases, Whiting said, "the burden of proof is on the landlord to prove that the work was done. The landlord submitted contracts, proofs of payment, engineering reports to substantiate that the work is done, and then the DCHR does a thorough review."

Whiting also said the tenants "aren't bringing [word of] any defective conditions in their apartments to our attention." No complaints have been filed concerning leaky ceilings. In addition, she said, even if there were leaks in some ceilings, that "wouldn't be evidence of the work not being done. Leaks could come from any number of sources."

Asked if the tenants had anything to fear from the landlord, Whiting said, "Absolutely not. To say they would be harassed is outrageous. There's never been any sort of activity like that on this property and there never will be."

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