RSA sues tenant leader Mike McKee for $40M claiming defamation

Suit alleges McKee sought "to expose RSA to public contempt, ridicule, aversion, disgrace, hatred, distrust and contempt"

TRD New York /
Jun.June 20, 2018 12:56 PM

Joseph Strasburg and Michael McKee (Credit: Bryan Terry via City & State and Facebook)

The Rent Stabilization Association, a landlord group that is one of the biggest lobbying and campaign spenders in New York State, filed suit against tenant leader Michael McKee on Wednesday alleging he defamed RSA in statements about its 2010 campaign contributions.

RSA alleges that at a City Council meeting in May, McKee testified that RSA had “promised” $150,000 contributions to three state senators if they agreed to vote down two tenant-friendly bills that had managed to get to the floor in Albany eight years ago.

In addition to McKee, the suit includes the Metropolitan Council on Housing, the Real Rent Reform Campaign and TenantsPAC, where McKee is treasurer, as defendants, on the basis that McKee was speaking on their behalf. RSA seeks $40 million in damages, claiming McKee intended “to expose RSA to public contempt, ridicule, aversion, disgrace, hatred, distrust and contempt.”

TenantsPAC, a state political action committee, typically supports candidates who take housing positions contrary to RSA. It spent a total of $158,000 on operating and campaign-related expenses between 2016 and 2017, state election records show.

The 2010 bills in question sent waves of panic through the inboxes of real estate industry lobbyists. Emails included as evidence in the corruption trial of former State Senate Majority leader Dean Skelos capture one particuarly dramatic exchange about the bills between two lobbyists for Glenwood Management. “Albany. All hell breaking loose,” the email reads. “Liz Kreuger and [Dan] Squadron moving bad bills to the floor. [John] Sampson fucking us. They don’t have the votes but terrible precedent giving those bills credibility. We may have stopped them.”

The bills included a measure to require landlords to better document how they use apartment improvements to deregulate stabilized apartments and another measure that would have reformed preferential rents, a tactic that allows landlords to increase rent in a given year by much more than the annual Rent Guidelines Board rules normally allow. The bills did not pass the Senate.

Reached by phone, McKee did not back down from his comments about RSA. “They bought off three Democratic Senators,” he said, referencing David Valesky and two former state senators, Darrel Aubertine and Craig Johnson, who all voted no on the bills. “This is just sheer harassment.”

In 2016, RSA spent $3.6 million on lobbying, making it the largest single lobbying force in the New York State that year. It also spent more than $1 million on state-level campaign contributions that year between its two associated political action committees, election records show. A representative for the RSA did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

When asked whether he could prove that RSA explicitly promised the three senators $150,000 contributions in return for specific votes, McKee said, “That will be a very interesting issue to play out in court. Bring it on.”

Related Articles

Blackstone CEO Steven Schwartzman and Stuyvesant Town (Credit: Getty Images)

After authorities vowed review of Stuy Town deal, Blackstone changes course on vacancies

Real Capital Analytics data showed that New York’s multifamily market had a very slow July. (Credit: iStock)

New NYC rent law “beginning to shut down investment”

Some landlords say they plan to close the door to vacant apartments and wait for the laws to change (Credit: iStock)

Creative ways NYC landlords are getting around the new rent rules

(Credit: iStock)

“Indentured landlord” in rent-reg lawsuit vents at politicians

A&E Real Estate Holdings principal Douglas Eisenberg and the properties along Queens Blvd and 65th Avenue (Credit: The Rego Park 18 Portfolio)

A&E Real Estate buys huge rent-stabilized portfolio at deep discount

The Thurgood Marshall Courthouse in Lower Manhattan (Credit: iStock)

Housing court could get a lot more political under reform plan

Clockwise from left: 5203-5207 Church Avenue in Brooklyn, 119-40 Metropolitan Avenue in Queens, 855 East 217th Street in the Bronx and 31-35 Steinway Street in Queens (Credit: Google Maps)

Going once, Going twice! Rent-stabilized portfolio hits auction block

WeWork employees speak up to management, NY condo buyers can stay anonymous after all

WeWork employees speak up to management, NY condo buyers can stay anonymous after all