Tenants at a Forest Hills building in the midst of a J-51 lawsuit have been granted class action status as they move forward with their case.
Queens County Supreme Court Judge Timothy J. Dufficy handed down the ruling in favor of tenants at 111-32 76th Avenue, a rental building owned by landlord Landau Real Estate. The suit claims that the company destabilized units in the 73-unit apartment building while still getting tax breaks under New York’s J-51 program.
More than 40 tenants were overcharged for rent, according to the suit, which was initially filed last May. It requests that those tenants get reimbursed for overcharges and that any illegally deregulated apartments be put back in the rent stabilization program.
A representative for Landau Real Estate — which paid $21 million for the property in 2014 — declined to comment on the lawsuit.
The tenant watchdog group Housing Rights Initiative initiated the suit, and maintains that the tenants could be collectively owed hundreds of thousands of dollars in rent refunds.
“It’s time for New York State to have a serious conversation about the enforcement of our rent stabilization system,” HRI executive director Aaron Carr said in a statement. “The customary indifference to fraud is beyond comprehension and belief.”
Tenants Gary and Helen Sczesnik, Liana Lindenberg and Joseph Polacik originally filed the suit. They are represented by attorney Lucas Ferrara.
“This case sends a clear message to outer borough landlords that they are not immune from suit should they skirt the requirements of the rent laws,” Ferrara said.
Ferrara is also representing tenants in a J-51 lawsuit at 28-30 34th Street in Astoria, who won class action status against their landlord the Mycak family earlier this summer. The Mycaks are one of the landlords suing to dismantle the strict new rent laws the state passed this year.