In first for Housing Rights Initiative, two landlord lawsuits achieve class certification

The Upper Manhattan and Bronx J-51 cases are the group's first to reach the milestone

From left: 3045 Godwin Terrace in the Bronx, Aaron Carr, and 260 Convent Avenue (Credit: Google Maps, Twitter, and Apartments)
From left: 3045 Godwin Terrace in the Bronx, Aaron Carr, and 260 Convent Avenue (Credit: Google Maps, Twitter, and Apartments)

It’s been a slow march in the state courts, but as of last week, two class action lawsuits generated by the Housing Rights Initiative achieved class certification —  the first of the group’s cases to reach this milestone.

Over the last two years HRI has organized more than 40 lawsuits against landlords, most alleging “schemes” to up rents more than prevailing laws allow.

The first of the two landlords in the class actions, Scharfman Organization, is alleged to have defrauded tenants of 260 Convent Avenue in Hamilton Heights. In the second, Richard Albert is similarly accused by his tenants at 3045 Godwin Terrace in the Bronx.

Both lawsuits allege the landlords’ companies broke the law by accepting the J-51 property tax benefit while deregulating rent-stabilized apartments. Keeping apartments rent-stabilized is a required condition of tax program, according to state law.

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Should they win their cases, the more than 100 current and former tenants of both buildings could receive rent overcharge refunds and damages.

“My constituents living at 3045 Godwin Terrace deserve better!” Bronx City Council member Andrew Cohen said in a statement. “They deserve to have their rent-stabilized leases rightfully restored to their apartments.”

Albert was not reachable by phone and Mark Scharfman declined to comment. This is the ninth complaint HRI has helped put together against Scharfman’s companies.

Apart from J-51 cases, HRI has ventured into less tested waters by filing class actions against landlords alleged to have overcharged on rent by exaggerating the cost of apartment renovations, or “Individual Apartment Improvements.” A couple of these cases were dismissed by lower courts and then refiled. One, against Harlem property owner Big City Realty, faced an appeals court panel in July. The majority of the panel decided the complaint should have survived a motion to dismiss so that discovery could first be granted to the tenant plaintiffs to help prove their claims.