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Lawsuit Alleges NYC Landlords Push Out Seniors, Disabled

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Held & Hines, LLP Files Class-Action Lawsuit Protecting the Elderly & the Disabled

Lawsuit Alleges NYC Landlords Push Out Seniors, Disabled

Jake Pearson, The Associated Press

Inspired by his own experience living in a New York City apartment building that was converted into high-priced condos, a 71-year-old lawyer and former state regulator is taking on developers citywide on behalf of seniors and disabled tenants.
Walter Goldsmith, a founding partner at Goldsmith & Fass, claims in Joseph Quenua v. Carnegie Park Associates, filed late Tuesday, that landlords have ignored a decades-old law that requires them to give tenants 62 and older and those with disabilities the option to stay on as renters in their apartments rather than move away or buy the apartment themselves.
Experts say the case could provide an extra layer of protection to vulnerable market-rate tenants who have lost housing security as rent-stabilized and regulated apartments have decreased in recent years.
“It’s fair to say these people are entitled to some stability and harmony in their lives,” said Goldsmith, who for the past 10 years has lived in a one-bedroom apartment in 31-story, 300-unit Carnegie Park Tower on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. Related Companies is the parent company of Carnegie Park Tower LLC.
Goldsmith in the 1970s was special deputy in the New York Attorney General’s Department of Securities and Public Financing, which at that time regulated cooperative apartment and condominium offerings.
Landlords had previously argued, as Related Companies did to Goldsmith in correspondence provided to The Associated Press, that the option for seniors and disabled renters to stay on only applied in cases where buildings were converted via eviction plans—that is, when 51 percent of the building’s units were purchased by people who live there.
But in so-called non-eviction plans, where only 15 percent of the apartments have to be sold for the plan to become effective, tenants are often pushed out because their leases are not renewed or they are given holdover leases during the conversion process, real-estate lawyers said.
“A lot of buildings have tenants who are not protected under rent stabilization and rent control, particularly in Manhattan,” said Kevin McConnell, a partner in Himmelstein, McConnell, Gribben, Donoghue & Joseph, who is not part of the lawsuit. “What we have been seeing is, where once tenants were all protected and had very few vacancies, now you walk in and there are vacancies all over the place.”
The New York Attorney General’s real estate finance bureau now regulates the conversion process and has in recent years stepped up its enforcement and regulation of conversions. On Nov. 10, the office issued new emergency regulations that require building owners to provide seniors and disabled tenants explicit notice of their right to choose to continue renting at rates that won’t soar. A spokesman for the office declined to comment.
Goldsmith’s lawsuit, which claims $100 million in damages, seeks class-action status. A spokeswoman for Related Companies said in a statement that while officials hadn’t seen the court papers, the company “scrupulously followed the statute and adhered to every applicable regulation.”
Marc Held, a partner with Held & Hynes in Brooklyn who is co-counsel with Goldsmith on the suit, said at least a quarter of Carnegie Park’s renters are either elderly or disabled, including at least one blind tenant.
“These are apartments that are triple in value vacant what they are with a rent-regulated tenant in there,” he said. “There’s a tremendous financial incentive not to comply with the law.”
Goldsmith said the attorney general’s new regulations protect elderly and disabled tenants, but only in new conversions. The lawsuit, he said, will provide a remedy for those “who have been or are about to be wrongfully evicted. It will give them the right to return to their apartments or to be compensated in damages including needless inconvenience and expense.”
Goldsmith predicted the litigation could affect tenants who are about to buy, have agreed to buy and have bought in buildings being converted to cooperative or condominium ownership. “All of them will have to be informed regarding the lawsuit and potential claims of elderly and disabled tenants, including the right to return to their apartments,” he said.

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