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Cuomo targets Vantage

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State Attorney General Andrew Cuomo announced last week he plans to sue Vantage Properties, which owns more than 80 buildings in Queens, to stop it from harassing rent-regulated tenants and forcing them from their homes in order to rent the apartments to individuals who could pay for more expensive, market-price units, he said.

Cuomo said in a statement the company, which has its Queens base in Long Island City, aggressively pressured long-term residents to move out of their homes by serving “baseless legal notices and commencing frivolous Housing Court eviction proceedings.”

Vantage spokesman Davidson Goldin defended the company in a statement.

“Vantage is genuinely committed to serving its residents and to the future of affordable housing in New York City,” Goldin said. “We look forward to demonstrating this to the attorney general.”

The attorney general said in a Jan. 28 letter to Vantage Properties President Neil Rubler that he would file a lawsuit in five days unless the company could convince the state otherwise. As of Tuesday, a lawsuit had not been filed, and a spokesman from Cuomo’s office said the five-day deadline could be “flexible.”

“With the five day intent-to-sue letter, it sometimes actually happens after five days,” the spokesman said. “It’s up to the lawyers. If there is a reasonable conversation going on, they won’t sue on the five-day deadline.”

In the letter to Rubler, Cuomo said “Vantage’s deceptive and harassing practices at issue have harmed and will continue to harm all New York City residents by displacing long-time tenants from their homes, accelerating the loss of affordable housing and destabilizing community.”

The company owns and operates nearly 10,000 apartment units, many of which are rent-regulated, in about 150 buildings throughout the city. It acquired many of its 80 Queens buildings in such areas as Corona, Elmhurst, Jackson Heights, Sunnyside and Woodside from notorious landlord Nicholas Haros in 2008.

Residents in the buildings have long complained of systemic abuse from Vantage, including frivolous lawsuits and maintenance concerns such as broken elevators and little or no heat in the winter.

“Landlords who illegally harass tenants to boost their bottom line do great harm to the fabric of this city,” Cuomo said. “Their underhanded tactics displace longtime residents from their homes and exacerbate the acute affordable housing shortage.”

After Vantage purchased a building, the company would attempt to evict tenants by falsely claiming the unit was not the primary residence of the individual or that they had failed to pay rent, Cuomo said.

Queens residents often staged protests against Vantage, and tenants have formed a union representing more than 1,300 borough residents.

Teresa Perez, president of the Queens Vantage Tenants Council, said she hoped Cuomo’s lawsuit would result in Vantage selling the properties to a “better landlord” and compensation for residents who have been harassed.

“We’re treading lightly with this because we’ve heard this from the attorney general’s office several times before%u2026 and nothing ever came of it,” said Perez, who lives in a Vantage building in Corona.

Perez said she has known many people who have been harassed or evicted by Vantage.

“These families invested time and money into these communities to make them into a place where they can raise their families, and they’re being told they have to leave,” Perez said. “They’re being told they’re not good enough to live here anymore.”

A number of elected officials and housing advocates expressed their support for Cuomo’s intent to sue Vantage, including Councilwoman Julissa Ferreras (D-East Elmhurst).

“I am hopeful that the attorney general’s lawsuit will send a strong message to property owners that tenants deserve full respect and due process,” Ferreras said.

Reach reporter Anna Gustafson by e-mail at agustafson@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 174.

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