Established Tenants Fear Tides of Change at Flatbush Gardens

Established Tenants Fear Tides of Change at Flatbush Gardens

While young, tony New Yorkers are being urged to put their roots down at one Flatbush housing complex, some of those who already live there in rent-stabilized units have begun to fear they might get an unceremonious heave-ho.

Flatbush Gardens — once known as Vanderveer Estates and owned since 2005 by Clipper Equity (the same folks whose bid to purchase Starrett City was turned down by the federal government because of concerns that they might not be able to maintain affordable housing there) — is clearly trying to shed its image as an urban housing project with a checkered past.

Indeed, an upscale website (www.flatbushgardens.net) paints a rosy picture of luxurious living in central Brooklyn and draws less-than-subtle comparisons between Flatbush Gardens and Manhattan’s Stuyvesant Town, while stressing that one-bedroom apartments in Flatbush Gardens go for $1,000 a month, way less than the $2,750 a month being charged at Stuyvesant Town.

But, says one local housing advocacy group, while Clipper is targeting those who might otherwise prefer to live in Manhattan, and redoing vacant apartments to attract them and up the rent, longtime residents often have to wait for repairs to their own apartments, and are getting charged for having air conditioners in their windows — a tactic that the advocacy group, the Flatbush Development Corporation (FDC), says is of questionable legality.

Even worse, according to FDC, people who pay their rents but do not pay the monthly charges being levied against them for having an air conditioner are finding themselves facing eviction.

“People are terribly in fear of being kicked out of their homes,” stressed Robin Redmond, FDC’s executive director, speaking after the first of a series of informational sessions held by FDC at a nearby church in order to get a better handle on “what’s going on there.”

The “main complaints,” Redmond added, are “harassment issues.

“Some tenants are being taken to housing court for non-payment of rent,” Redmond explained. “What’s happening is that management is actually deducting the air conditioning fees from the rent, and claiming they are falling behind in the rent. They are going through the eviction process even though they are paying rent. That’s really huge.”

Other tenants in the 59-building, 2,496-unit complex located on a 20.64 acre site in an area roughly bounded by Foster Avenue, Brooklyn Avenue, Newkirk Avenue and Nostrand Avenue are removing the units “because they can’t afford to pay $30 a month,” Redmond said, and still others “are paying when they don’t need to be paying.”

Contended Redmond, none of this should be occurring. The owners of apartment buildings can charge a fee to tenants who put in their own air conditioning units, she explained, “If they start charging within a reasonable period of time after the air conditioner has been installed. Anything under three months is definitely fine for the landlord to start charging. Three months to one year is iffy. Over a year, if you had an air conditioner and it’s been visible and the landlord hasn’t been charging, then the landlord loses the right to charge for it. It seems like a lot of tenants had air conditioners visible for many, many years and now, all of a sudden, the landlord wants to charge them.”

The problem, added Aga Trojniak, director of housing and immigration programs for FDC, appears to be “fairly widespread.” FDC learned of it, she added, because some of the residents are contacted Brooklyn Legal Services, CAMBA and other organizations seeking legal representation.

Residents are also being told to remove their washing machines, Trojniak said, even though, “The law says it depends on the original lease the tenants signed for their rent-stabilized apartments. As long as it doesn’t prohibit it, the tenants can have one.

“It’s common,” she added, “when landlords want to get rid of people, they start harassing them around washing machines and things of that sort.”

There are other issues as well, says FDC. “Tenants are very concerned about their rents being raised beyond the legally allowable level,” said Redmond. The burden of contesting such an increase, she added, lies with the tenant. Landlords can “just do it. It’s the tenant who has to initiate any kind of action to investigate that; if the tenant doesn’t, the landlord isn’t required to show the amount that’s being charged is okay.”

In addition, said Redmond, “There are still unresolved tenant issues going on. If there’s a vacancy upstairs, the issue may be taken care of but the occupied apartment below still have the issue,” she said.

There have been improvements in the buildings since Clipper took over the property, Redmond noted. ‘They fixed the elevators, they fixed the front doors and the intercom system probably works better than it has in 10 years,” she told this paper.

But, added Trojniak, there is a question as to whether such improvements could result in the landlord being able to raise the rent. “You can’t increase rent for fixing a leak, but you can for making capital improvements,” she explained.

A blog kept by one of the complex’s tenants reflects some of the issues. On the blog, flatbushnyc.blogspot.com, the writer discusses the air conditioning fee being imposed, as well as the frustrations of tenants waiting for repairs to be made to their apartments.

Contacted for comment, the owners of Flatbush Gardens responded with an emailed statement. Noted J.J. Bistricer, executive vice president of Clipper Equity, “We respect the tenants that have called Flatbush Gardens their home for decades and the new residents who are embracing the renovations and improvements we have made here.We pride ourselves on our relationship with our tenants and abide by the state and federal laws that oversee this rent-stabilized community in every way from air conditioning charges to rents and expect our tenants to comply with their leases.We are proud to say that Flatbush Gardens has a union staff of 70 plus dedicated strictly to maintaining existing tenants’ apartments.We also have a management team that overseas all repair requests in a timely manner.“