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Support rights of rent−stabilized tenants against landlords

Politicians need to step up and put their money where their mouths are in supporting tenants’ rights against predatory equity landlord Vantage Properties and private financier AREA Property Partners, formerly known as Apollo Real Estate Advisors.

Since its 2006 purchase of 80 buildings comprising 9,500 rent−stabilized units in Queens, Vantage, a well−funded organization, has, we believe, harassed its rent−stabilized and −controlled tenants — many of whom are immigrants and largely non−native English speakers.

The naturally occurring vacancy rate of rent−stabilized buildings in the city was only 1.6 percent between 2005 and 2008, according to the City Council. But in order to secure the high rates of return promised to investors, AREA and Vantage must resort to aggressive and harassing tactics to fulfill their targeted goal of recapturing 20 percent to 30 percent of apartments, as stated in a 2007 U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission filing.

Since its 2006 purchase, we believe, Vantage has used a litany of tactics to harass tenants, including issuing frivolous lawsuits, baseless accusations regarding nonpayment of rent, false charges that tenants’ homes are not their primary residence, etc. At the same time, rent−regulated apartments have frequently gone without necessary repairs, while renovations continue in vacant apartments renting at or near market rates.

In response to Vantage’s predatory business practices, tenants joined together in July 2008 to form the Queens Vantage Tenants’ Council, the largest organized tenants union in Queens, representing tenants across the 80 Vantage−owned buildings.

At the QVTC’s Dec. 3 Town Hall forum, several incumbent politicians and political candidates pledged to support the tenants union and its demands.

Demands include:

• appointing a third−party to review Vantage’s lawsuits against tenants and holding Vantage financially accountable for baseless proceedings

• Vantage recognizing the QVTC as the tenant representative organization, identifying AREA’s relationship to Vantage and committing to address tenant concerns

• disclosing Vantage’s vacancy rates

• providing vacancy leases for tenants who have lived in the buildings for more than two years and paid rent on time

• having an on−site licensed superintendant in every building authorized to make basic repairs upon a tenant’s request

• Vantage financially compensating tenants when appointments for scheduled repairs are not kept

• meeting with AREA and Vantage upon 30 days written request by the QVTC

These demands were previously presented to Vantage and AREA, who have yet to accept.

During the QVTC forum, the politicians promised to personally contact Vantage and AREA to express their disapproval of Vantage’s ill−treatment of its rent−stabilized tenants and contact the city Department of Housing to ensure Vantage’s compliance with housing regulations.

Since December, City Councilwoman Julissa Ferreras (D−Jackson Heights) and Council candidate Daniel Dromm have honored their commitment. The QVTC thanks them for their efforts.

For the most part, however, the QVTC has seen a slow follow−up response from elected and prospective politicians, which is disappointing coming from those who profess to support tenants rights. The fight for fair housing practices can only be won with the collaborative efforts of tenants, their elected representatives and those vying for the support of their constituents.

Everyone needs to be in the game and working as a team toward the same goal. Politicians need to step up to the plate and take action on their pledges.

Teresa Perez

President

Queens Vantage Tenants’ Council

Corona

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