The Real Deal New York

13 West Village tenants sue “Captain Planet” co-creator Barbara Pyle for rent fraud

Principal of Carmine Properties violated terms of J-51 tax abatement, tenants organized by Housing Rights Initiative claim
By Will Parker | May 24, 2017 02:40PM

Captain Planet characters pointing their rings at 59-61 Carmine Street

With the power of earth, fire, wind, heart, water…and (alleged) rent overcharges!

Carmine Properties, a multifamily landlord headed by “Captain Planet” co-creator Barbara Pyle, allegedly failed to register more than 30 apartments as rent stabilized while receiving a $158,000 J-51 tax break last year, according to a 13-plaintiff lawsuit brought by tenants in New York Supreme Court on Wednesday.

The West Village building in question at 59-61 Carmine Street holds 38 residential apartments, but the landlord only reported five of them as rent-stabilized on 2016 tax forms. As a result, tenants allege they are facing much higher rents than they should under the terms of J-51, which require the apartments to be held to modest annual rent increases set by the city’s Rent Guidelines Board.

The suit claims the owners applied for a 34-year J-51 tax exemption in 1986.

Carmine Properties used “high rent deregulation” to remove the properties from rent-stabilization during vacancies, though the suit alleges that the improvements made to the apartments that would allow them to bump up the rent were not legitimate in the first place. They also claimed that the landlord neglected to file DOB permits to carry out construction work at some apartments. Tenants were asked to sign leases that indicated that they understood their apartments were not subject to New York City rent laws, the complaint states.

In a statement, Aaron Carr, head of the Housing Rights Initiative group that organized the suit (and has previously done the leg work leading to suits against landlords like Stellar Management and A&E Real Estate), said “J-51 offenders are robbing tenants and taxpayers in broad daylight, and they are getting away with it almost every time. You can’t make this stuff up.” Erik Coler, a member of Community Board 2, had asked Carr to look into instances of rent fraud in the neighborhood. Attorney John T. Maher is representing the tenants.

Pyle, who according to property records acquired the property in 1972, did not immediately return a request for comment.

In 1989, Pyle partnered with Ted Turner to create the “Captain Planet” television show, an animated series that highlighted the threats posed to the environment by unregulated industrial production, with villains such as Hoggish Greedly, a pig-like humanoid who runs a polluting car factory.

Pyle sits on the board of directors of the Captain Planet Foundation, an environmental education organization. She’s also a professional photojournalist.

Following a 2009 decision at Stuyvesant Town maintaining that J-51 apartments must remain rent stabilized for the duration of tax benefits, suits against landlords accused of violating these terms are increasingly common.