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Sabini fights boro tenant harassment: State senator responds to pleas from Jackson Heights residents

The tenants of 37-37 88th St. in Jackson Heights say Vantage is using harassment to evict them from their apartments in a ploy to turn the building into co-ops or condos. Vantage bought a portfolio of about 50 rent-controlled buildings from their notorious landlord Nicholas Haros in 2006. Since the sale tenants have experienced various tactics that may be meant to force them out, such as Vantage returning rent checks and alleging that the 88th Street building is not their primary residence, tactics that are documented in a lawsuit filed against Vantage Properties in Manhattan's Supreme Court by the Legal Aid Society and the Catholic Migration Office on behalf of the renters.Sabini said the tenants may have the right idea. The senator announced at a press conference last weekend that he was giving a grant of $15,000 to the Catholic Migration Office, a nonprofit organization that aids immigrants and refugees, to cover costs for legal aid for the tenants."A lot of alarms went off in my head when I heard the Haros properties were being bought by Vantage. The only way you can turn a profit on a rent-stabilized building is to force people out," he said.Advocacy group Housing Here and Now called Haros one of the 10 worst landlords in the city in 2005 because his buildings had racked up nearly 6,000 violations that year.Vantage could not be reached for comment.Robert McCreanor, an attorney with the Catholic Migration Office, said that in units where the tenants had moved out, Vantage had raised the rents to market rates, in some cases upwards of $1,500. Many long-term tenants are paying considerably less than that."Of the original portfolio Vantage bought in 2006, about 30 percent have been vacated," he said.In some cases, Vantage has refused to accept a tenant's rent check, then after a dispute agrees to allow the tenant to stay in the apartment rent free for several months in exchange for a $4,000 lease buyout, McCreanor said.Khursh Mian, who has lived in the 88th Street building for 36 years and also has relatives living in the building, is one of the tenants whose rent check was sent back."I sent my March rent check Feb. 29 and it was received in the office March 4. Usually they cash it within four or five days, but they didn't cash it through April 10. I was concerned, but I didn't do anything," he said. "I got home April 11 to a letter saying the check was returned because it has an additional name on it, which happens to be my wife, whose name is on the lease."Silvia Alonso, a tenant in the building for 40 years, said it is impossible for tenants to contact Vantage."If you have a problem, they tell you to call the office, but they never answer" and there is no way to leave a message, she said.One tenant fought Vantage's claim that the 88th Street building was not her primary residence and refused to renew her lease."They said in order to live here, you have to be here 180 days a year. We're here 365 days a year," said Dhenise Oliveira, who has lived in the building since 1992.Vantage said she lived at an address on 32nd Avenue in Woodside, based on the fact a tenant there had a similar name, Oliveira said. She and her husband armed themselves with all the proof they could find, like driver's licenses and utility bills in their names, and went to the state to fight to stay in their home."I went to the [state] Department of Housing and Community Renewal and filed a complaint and got everything fixed," she said. But Vantage is trying similar tactics with tenants who may not have the resources or know how to use the system like she did, "and that's sad," she said.Reach reporter Alex Christodoulides by e-mail at achristodoulides@timesledger.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 155.

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