The backers of a petition pledging to withhold property taxes say they plan to file a class-action lawsuit against New York City.
A person who identified himself as Garold Wilder — although public records show his phone number corresponds to Aron Wolcowitz of Bridge Street Equities — is behind the petition.
The group sent a press release Thursday headlined “We can’t breathe” — a slogan popularized by Black Lives Matter to protest police violence — to draw attention to the plight of property owners whose renters do not pay.
According to Wilder, or Wolcowitz, the phrase was not meant to draw a similarity between unpaid landlords and minorities at risk of police violence. It stems from the 2014 death in Staten Island of Eric Garner, who pleaded “I can’t breathe” 11 times as officers pinned him to the sidewalk, causing bleeding in his neck and a fatal asthma attack.
The petition organizer said the phrase instead refers to the “side effects of the corona, that causes difficulty breathing.”
“Cuomo this morning announced that there will be no eviction until the end of August,” the activist property owner said in an interview Thursday. “But we’re a group of smaller landlords. We can’t survive it. We won’t be able to pay taxes by default.”
The property tax–strike petitioners collectively own 3,126 apartments across the city, said “Wilder,” including his 21 in Bushwick and Gowanus. He described most of the owners involved as “small landlords who have 30 to 50 units.”
The organizer declined to provide information about his real estate firm, but said he initiated the petition in response to two buildings at the corner of Prescott Place and Herkimer Street in Brooklyn that are on rent strike.
The extension of the eviction moratorium through August 20, he said, “is the main factor” leading his group to explore legal options. The petitioners have already raised $300,000 toward legal fees. Property taxes are collected by the city but can be abated by state legislation.
Another person involved with the threatened tax strike, who requested anonymity for fear of “tenant backlash,” said she would prefer the government lose property taxes than private lenders or banks lose mortgage payments. Her real estate firm, she said, manages 1,000 units and owns 800 of them.
“We don’t want anything that would hurt banks,” she said. “I feel for [the banks], I understand them, they didn’t dream up coronavirus. Even though they don’t feel for me in the same way. Not one bank is saying they’ll waive interest. They should.”