New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo announced today that he would sue Vantage Properties, one of the largest landlords of rent-regulated housing in New York City, for allegedly harassing tenants.
Cuomo said in a statement that he would sue to halt the alleged harassment and seek monetary damages to tenants who were victimized.
“[Vantage’s] underhanded tactics displace long-time residents from their homes and exacerbate the acute affordable housing shortage,” Cuomo said in a statement.
This is not the first time the office of the New York attorney general has put pressure on a large city landlord. In December 2006, the office of then Attorney General Eliot Spitzer hammered out an agreement with Pinnacle Group, a landlord that was strongly criticized for evictions and rent charges.
The allegations against Vantage, headed by Neil Rubler, include trying to evict tenants with claims that the apartment is not their primary residence, and suing tenants in housing court for non-payment despite receiving rent payments in cash.
An investigation by the attorney general’s office found that a major element of the company’s management strategy was to force out rent-regulated tenants and convert units to market rate, the agency said in a letter written to Vantage, and provided to the media.
“As a result, Vantage aggressively attempted to force out long-term tenants by serving baseless legal notices and commencing frivolous Housing Court eviction proceedings,” the letter (see the letter below), dated today, says.
Vantage has purchased more than 125 apartment buildings with about 9,500 apartment units since 2006. The vast majority of the units in buildings in Harlem, Upper Manhattan and Queens are rent-regulated.
A spokesperson for Vantage did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
One industry source, who asked not to be identified, said Cuomo’s allegations are for far less extreme violations than those against other landlords in the past.
“The nature of the allegations are far more subtle than what has occurred in the past when there were claims of dogs in [the] hall, leaks that were uncorrected, stairwells eliminated, heat and hot water not provided,” he said. “This is a whole different time with [allegations against a] much more subtle form of conduct.”
Housing advocate Robert McCreanor, director of legal services at the Catholic Migration Office, was one of the attorneys who filed an ongoing case in New York State Supreme Court against Vantage in April 2008, alleging a pattern of harassment.
The suit by Cuomo’s office would “establish a precedent for holding landlords accountable when they engage in these kind of practices,” McCreanor said.