Tenants blame state for Queens landlord’s ‘illegal’ rent hikes

Zara Realty renters claim notorious price inflation

Zara Realty Rent-Stabilized Tenants Take Aim at State Agency
Zara Realty's Anthony Subraj (George Subraj Family Foundation, Getty)

Five years back, the state housing agency and attorney general slapped Zara Realty with a lawsuit alleging the Queens landlord had harassed tenants and violated rent-stabilization law. 

Now, some of those rent-stabilized tenants are taking the housing agency to court, claiming they’ve waited years for a decision that could hold Anthony Subraj’s Zara accountable for what they claim are illegal rent overcharges.

The tenants, who occupy 14 Zara buildings in Jamaica, Queens, and three in Flushing, filed a so-called Article 78 motion, which asks the court to force the state’s Division of Homes and Community Renewal to make a decision on the rent increases. 

The tenants claim that delays have stretched three years in some cases; state law mandates the process should take no more than three months.

Zara, named a “bad actor landlord” by Public Advocate Jumanee Williams, hiked their rents after reporting building-wide renovations with the state, the tenants claim. 

Before the 2019 rent law passed, rent-stabilized owners could hike rents by 6 percent after making those so-called major-capital improvements or MCIs. Some owners abused the rule, reporting work that never occurred or inflating the cost of renovations.

Zara, the tenants allege, did unnecessary MCI work, over-reported construction expenses by millions of dollars in some cases and in others, made minimal updates, then raised rents by an outsized hundreds of dollars.

“Not only are they inflating costs, they also leave portions of the building undone, old, cracked, exposed to the elements,” said Moreom Perven of 88-15 168th Street.

Sign Up for the undefined Newsletter

“DHCR is the enabler,” he added.

A spokesperson for Zara refuted the “baseless” claims, insisting that all MCI’s were done with approval from the state’s Department of Housing & Community Renewal. The disputed improvements were approved by the state between 2016-2021 as necessary, a representative of the company noted.

“These lobbyists are seeking to subvert a lengthy review process that the State of New York already has in place,” the spokesperson said. “It is categorically false for these anti landlord lobbying organizations to claim otherwise.” 

A spokesperson for HCR said it cannot comment on litigation. But the agency hasn’t gone easy on Zara. 

In addition to the suit it filed with Attorney General Letitia James, which is ongoing, HCR sued Zara in January over failing to provide adequate heat at 146-14 90th Avenue, a housing code violation. The suit was dismissed in May.

Zara’s tenants are likely not the only ones waiting on a response, either. HCR, in late 2022, was working through a backlog of such complaints, some that had sat unaddressed for four years. The agency said office closures during the pandemic and Covid-driven court delays had extended processing times. 

The attorneys representing Zara’s renters, though, have little sympathy.

“It’s time for DHCR to answer for failing to respond to tenants,” Legal Services NYC Staff Attorney Johnny Thach. “DHCR needs to do its job.”

Read more

144-06 88th Avenue in Queens and Attorney General Letitia James (Google Maps; James byErik McGregor/LightRocket via Getty Images)
New York
Judge denies Zara Realty’s bid to dismiss AG lawsuit
New York
Zara Realty hit with suit from AG alleging tenant harassment, rent-stabilization violations
Zara co-managing partner Tony Subraj with renderings of the project (George Subraj Family Foundation, Zara Realty)
New York
Zara lands $83M construction loan for energy-efficient Queens apartments