Vantage halts new Queens lawsuits

By Adam Pincus | July 07, 2008 10:23PM

A landlord on a buying spree in Queens Has Stopped Filing New Housing Court actions against its tenants in the borough after residents sued the company three months ago, alleging the company was harassing tenants in an effort to boost rents.

Manhattan-based Vantage Properties has not brought any new cases against tenants for not paying their rents or living in their apartments without a lease since early April.

Vantage has partnered with private-equity firms to finance the purchase of about 9,500 units of mostly rent-stabilized housing in New York City over the past few years.

On April 4, Vantage Properties filed its last actions, called non-payment or holdover cases, in Queens Housing Court. On April 10, six tenants in Vantage Properties buildings filed a lawsuit in New York State Supreme Court claiming the landlord filed unnecessary legal actions against residents.

The suit alleges the owners sought to remove tenants at more than the average 5.6 percent turnover rate the Rent Guidelines Board said exists in rent-stabilized apartments, in part through housing court actions.

Prior to the lawsuit by tenants, attorneys for Manhattan-based Vantage Properties brought an average of 50 cases per month against residents, according to a review of cases by The Real Deal.

The company’s attorneys brought 72 cases against residents in January, 39 in February and 45 in March.

Nathan Katz Realty, which sold a 2,124-unit Queens portfolio to Vantage Properties in October, 2006, brought an average of 25 cases per month in the mid-1990s against tenants, according to attorneys representing the tenants. Vantage’s attorneys began the legal actions soon after the company bought the 31 buildings in October 2006.

Neil Rubler, Vantage’s president and CEO, said he expected the freeze to be temporary.

“We want to keep litigation to an absolute minimum, and we have been working diligently over the past few months to find better ways of communicating with and assisting our residents when issues arise,” he wrote in an email. “While we would love to think that we will never need to be in court with a resident, of course that’s not practical.”

Vantage Properties, which has partnered with private equity firms such as Taconic Partners and Apollo Real Estate Advisors, made its first multifamily apartment purchase in 2006.

Robert McCreanor, director of legal services at the Immigrant Tenant Advocacy Project of the Catholic Migration Office, said the moratorium would allow the company to prove that it did not need a turnover rate higher than the normal city average, as tenants charged in the lawsuit. The Immigrant Tenant Advocacy Project brought the lawsuit in April with the Queens Legal Services Corporation and the Legal Aide Society.

Vantage Properties “said their financial partners are very well capitalized … and they are under no pressure to increase the vacancy rate. If that is their position then this is the test,” McCreanor said.