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Court OKs suit against LIC landlord

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Tenants of a major property management company in Queens got one step closer to filing a lawsuit after a State Supreme Court judge in Manhattan ruled last month the allegations leveled against the landlord were violations of a city tenant harassment law.

But the tenants, who say Vantage Properties accused them of having primary residences elsewhere and at times did not cash their rent checks before accusing them of failure to pay, were not allowed to proceed with their suit on the basis of consumer protection violations.

In a May 26 ruling, Judge Martin Shulman found the consumer protection premise of the legal action was not valid, noting none of the plaintiffs in the case were actually fooled by the late rent notices and legal action notices that Vantage distributed to the tenants.

But Shulman did say the plaintiffs have grounds for their suit based on the tenant harassment law passed by the City Council last year.

Sadia Rahman, an attorney with the Catholic Migration Office, which helped the tenants pursue the case, said the ruling was a major victory for the tenants because it was essentially a test case for the new law.

“It sort of means a lot to the tenants to know that what we alleged in the complaint survived,” she said. “Especially since the law in the tenant protection act is so new. The judge could have found a million reasons and grounds to get rid of it.”

But Davidson Goldin, spokesman for Vantage, said the court decision was a victory for the company.

“We’re pleased that the judge threw out the heart of the case and we look forward to the sam result with the remaining claims because no tenants were harassed,” he said.

Their next court date is June 23.

Vantage bought some 40 buildings in Corona, Elmhurst, Jackson Heights, Sunnyside and Woodside from notorious landlord Nicholas Haros in early 2008. The trouble began soon afterward as Vantage filed a number of eviction claims in housing court, tenant advocates said.

The tenants initially filed the suit in Manhattan Supreme Court last May. They cited U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission filings that indicate Vantage’s strategy involves ousting rent−stabilized tenants to increase profit margins.

“The sponsors plan to improve the subject’s performance by making capital improvements to individual units as the leases expire and raising rents to market levels,” according to the documents, which outline mortgages for rent−stabilized apartments Vantage purchased in Washington Heights. “The borrower anticipates to recapture approximately 20 percent to 30 percent of the units by year end 2008.”

Vantage has denied any concentrated strategy of evicting longtime rent−stabilized tenants. Company President Neil Rubler said Vantage has suspended all eviction proceedings until the court case is resolved.

Reach reporter Jeremy Walsh by e−mail at jewalsh@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718−229−0300, Ext. 154.

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