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

Owner asks elected officials why he should subsidize tenant’s vacation

Nov.November 21, 2019 03:45 PM
The lawsuit will likely take several years to reach the Supreme Court, if it ever does. (Credit: iStock)

The lawsuit will likely take several years to reach the Supreme Court, if it ever does. (Credit: iStock)

One of the property owners highlighted in a federal lawsuit challenging the new rent law isn’t waiting for the lawyers to make his case.

Bryan Liff, who was prevented by the legislation from evicting tenants from his newly purchased Manhattan building so his family could move in, has been hectoring at least seven elected officials by email about the law. In one message reviewed by The Real Deal, Liff asks several prominent legislators whether he must “subsidize” his rent-stabilized tenant’s vacation.

The tenant, according to the landlord’s email, requested to sublet her apartment while she traveled.

“By the nature of the tenant being rent-stabilized we as landlords are already directly subsidizing her rent, are we now required to subsidize her vacations?” the message reads. (The answer: no.)

“If the state would like to buy the property and assume its management, I would be happy to sell it to you,” Liff later wrote them. “Otherwise this act has forced us into being indentured landlords whose tenants hold all the power.”

The messages were shared by State Sen. Julia Salazar, a supporter of the rent law, on the condition that its six other recipients, which included colleagues and high-ranking members of the Cuomo administration, not be identified.

Liff told TRD that he did not coordinate with the Rent Stabilization Association, the Community Housing Improvement Program or any other plaintiffs in the lawsuit. The landlord, whose circumstance is featured in the suit although he’s not a party to it, said rent-stabilized tenants should not be allowed to sublet their apartments. The law allows subletting but only with the landlord’s permission.

Liff’s messages also called for means-testing regulated tenants, who he said are living in “subsidized housing.” The new law did away with a provision allowing landlords to evict high-income tenants from rent-regulated units. The legislation severely curtailed owners’ ability to raise rents, but did not provide a subsidy, which is a payment or tax break from the government.

Liff’s situation is featured extensively in the lawsuit, one of several challenging the new statute. According to the complaint, Liff and his wife purchased an Upper West Side building for $2.1 million in March. After spending more than $25,000 on architectural and engineering fees, they were unable to take over the six of the eight rent-stabilized units as planned. The number of apartments allowed for an owner’s personal use was limited to one by the law enacted in June.

The complaint also alleges that, were the Liffs to sell their property, it would fetch only a fraction of the former value because of the new law.

“When the government decrees that a tenant’s rights take precedence over the owner’s own use and occupancy of a unit or building, the government has effectively seized that property to the same extent as if it had taken over the building as a government housing facility,” the complaint reads.

The lawsuit will likely take several years to reach the Supreme Court, if it ever does.

RSA and CHIP, along with seven individual landlords, filed the lawsuit in the U.S. District Court, Eastern District of New York, alleging that the new law violates the U.S. Constitution’s Fifth Amendment — which bars the taking of private property without “just compensation” — and the Fourteenth Amendment’s due process clause.

“Our legal efforts are on behalf of a broad and diverse group of property owners and are focused on a constitutional challenge to the law,” CHIP said in a statement. “But we fully understand the rationale for individuals to want to mitigate the damage these laws are inflicting and we support an owner who wants to be able to live in their own property.”

And Frank Ricci, director of government affairs for RSA, said in a statement, “There’s a fundamental difference between owning and renting. It goes to the heart of the physical takings argument we’re taking to think that someone who owns a property risked their own money, invested their own money, has less rights than a tenant.”

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