Rent-law revenge: Big landlord leads effort to punish Senate Dems

Second-largest NYC landlord spearheading effort

Cammeby's International's Avi Schron is spearheading the new lobby group (Credit: iStock)
Cammeby's International's Avi Schron is spearheading the new lobby group (Credit: iStock)

A campaign led by one of the city’s biggest landlords is planning to go after Democratic state senators in New York.

Alliance for Rental Excellence NY, led by Avi Schron, executive vice president of Cammeby’s International, is raising money with the hopes of breaking the left’s hold on the Senate in 2020, The Real Deal has learned. Cammeby’s has 12,179 rental units across the city — second-most among landlords, according to a TRD analysis.

ARENY has also engaged Brooklyn-based rabbi and political operative Shia Ostreicher and, according to sources close to the group, has raised as much as $2 million. It is registered to a post office box in Midwood, Brooklyn, with no contact or named representative in its Department of State filing.

Ostreicher, who belongs to the Belz Hasidic sect of the orthodox Jewish community, was influential in pushing for the redistricting of Midwood and Borough Park in 2012 with then-Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos. The activist rabbi also had close ties to former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver.

Leon Goldenberg and Josh Mehlman, who are also involved in the group, sit on the Flatbush Jewish Community Coalition executive board together with Schron.

Cammeby’s, Goldenberg and Mehlman did not return requests for comment. Agudath Israel did not comment.

A source in the New York orthodox community noted that many landlords have been organizing, and that the issue of rent reform “resonates far and wide” in that world.

“People are talking about it because there are a lot of people in real estate in the orthodox community,” the person said. “Many organizations and nonprofits receive philanthropic support from people in the real estate industry.”

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One Brooklyn political operative said, “You’ve got to think about these orthodox groups as large real estate operations.” As a revenue source, yeshivas are a distant second, the operative said.

The new group may also be backed by some of the largest landlords in the city, according to sources with direct knowledge of the matter. Sources said real estate investment trust Clipper Equity is involved.

Landlords failed spectacularly in their efforts to stop most of the reforms included in the new rent law. Taconic and other landlords lobbied aggressively ahead of the reforms that were passed in June, even presenting an alternative rent reform plan to legislators.

Charles Bendit, co-CEO of Taconic Investment Partners, said he had had conversations with Schron to discuss remedies for the new rent law. “I knew they were being proactive in trying to have the legislation with respect to rent regulations reconsidered,” Bendit said of Cammeby’s. “I wish them luck. We definitely could use some reconsideration.”

All state legislators are up for re-election this year, but it is unclear how ARENY will advance landlords’ interests. Its political opportunities depend in part on whether senators who voted for the new rent law draw viable challenges from candidates more favorable to the real estate industry. It could also seek legislation this session.

Joseph Strasburg, president of the Rent Stabilization Association, which represents owners of rent-regulated buildings, said that Schron resisted coordination with other industry groups and was looking to lash out at legislators after the changes to the rent law were passed. Strasburg called their political game plan “far-fetched.”

“If they’re carrying out this strategy, they’ve probably isolated a few races in Brooklyn,” said Strasburg. “But they are separate and apart from all the other groups.”

Update: Following publication of this story, a spokesperson for Cammeby’s and the Schron family said ARENY is not “led by Cammeby’s or any of its principals.” But five other sources contradicted that. And the Cammeby’s/Schron spokesperson also spoke for ARENY, saying it has not funded efforts aimed at unseating elected officials. This article has also been updated to include a quote from Charles Bendit of Taconic Investment Partners.