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The tenants of more than 80 buildings owned by Vantage Properties in Queens are riding high after their landlord settled with state Attorney General Andrew Cuomo’s office over allegations of harassment.
But it will be some time before the families who claim they were falsely taken to court over missing rent or sued over bogus claims their primary residence was elsewhere will be able to collect any money from the company.
Representatives from Cuomo’s office explained to a group of tenants at a meeting at St. Sebastian’s School last Thursday that it would take several months for any claims for damages to be processed, though they hoped to issue all reimbursements by autumn.
Of the $1 million settlement, $250,000 will go to funding nonprofit legal aid groups that assist tenants, like Robert McCreanor’s Catholic Migration Office. The other $750,000 will be issued as compensation to tenants who apply.
The agreement also requires Vantage to hire an independent monitor to examine its interactions with tenants for three years and provide services in more languages than English and Spanish.
Cuomo’s office will continue to monitor the buildings even if Vantage goes bankrupt or sells the properties.
“Tonight this is our victory, and it comes from our hard work and our relentless pursuit of justice,” said QVTC member John Klucas.
Tenant claims will be overseen by state Assistant Attorney General Brooke Davis, who said she was eager to work on the case.
“I was raised by a single mother in a rent-stabilized apartment in Flushing in an area where there’s a lot of Vantage buildings,” she told tenants at the meeting. “This agreement is very personal to me. This investigation was very personal to me.”
The Cuomo staffers answered most tenants’ questions by directing them to contact their office later to discuss the details and file a claim.
The news was happy for Vantage tenants like Jackson Heights resident Ricardo Serrano, 68, who said he had been taken to court four times after the company accused him of not paying his rent.
“It’s wonderful, it’s beautiful,” he said.
Vantage, which already owned property in the borough, came under scrutiny in 2008 after it bought more than 40 Queens buildings in Corona, Elmhurst, Flushing, Forest Hills, Sunnyside and Woodside that were owned by notorious landlord Nicholas Haros.
Vantage President Neil Rubler said his company’s aim was to improve the long-neglected housing stock and make it appealing to middle-class families, but many longtime residents began to complain the company was trying to pressure them out of their rent-stabilized apartments in order to make improvements and raise the rents.
Reach reporter Jeremy Walsh by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 718-260-4564.
©2010 Community Newspaper Group
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