The tenants of buildings scooped up by a private equity-backed landlord that subsequently jacked up rents are organizing to prevent any further displacement among their renters, and are hoping to get a major bill passed in Albany to prevent similarly unscrupulous property owners from doing the same to others.
Greenbrook Partners has spent the past year buying up dozens of apartment buildings all over Brooklyn, subsequently jacking up tenants’ rent or not offering lease renewals with the intent of significantly raising their monthly rent. But residents have struck back, forming a tenant association and reaching out to those living in other Greenbrook properties to ensure they’re aware of the landlord’s reputation, and to bring them into their fold.
Aneta Molenda, a digital campaign organizer, moved into a six-unit townhouse on Macon Street in Bedford-Stuyvesant in December of 2020, thrilled to have finally found a place she could afford to live on her own. But when she was presented a lease renewal in December she was horrified to learn her rent would be going up by 50 percent.
She negotiated “hard,” and the landlord eventually reduced the rent somewhat. But when Molenda read the new lease presented to her, she found a rider allowing the landlord to kick her out within 30 days for any reason, and double her rent if she didn’t.
“My initial reaction was, I can’t afford it and I can’t stay here,” Molenda told Brooklyn Paper. “So the first thing I did was try to negotiate with them. And I was completely shocked, I had never gotten that kind of rent increase or heard of anything like that before. And my second reaction was to organize a tenants’ union in my building, start talking to my neighbors.”
She’s not alone. After numerous tenants received massive rent increases last year at 70 Prospect Park West, they started organizing over WhatsApp and figuring out how best to stay in their apartment.
“They’re just trying to clean house, basically,” said Emily Parent, a tenant at 70 Prospect Park West. “Get every market-rate tenant out that they could. Everyone’s sort of freaking out at the same time, decided to work together and fight back against it.”
Rental history compiled on Streeteasy shows the degree to which Greenbrook is upping the values of leases. Apartment 5B, a three-bedroom, was leased in March for $7,595, a nearly 100 percent increase from the $3,825 it last rented for in 2014. Apartment 3E leased last May for $4,600, a 31 percent increase from the $3,500 rent signed for in February.
After requesting their rent history and finding it “suspicious,” Parent and fellow 70 PPW tenants decided to stay in their apartments past the end of their lease and fight Greenbrook in court, a case that’s ongoing. They continue to mail their rent to the landlord each month, though their checks aren’t cashed.
In the interval, they and other coalition members are attempting to get out the word on Greenbrook’s practices to their tenants at other properties, some of whom moved in last year to the apartments previously occupied by displaced residents, many of whom are now themselves facing the specter of an effective eviction. One Bed-Stuy Greenbrook resident told tenant union canvassers the landlord is “floating” a $700 rent increase. Another said that contractors come by on a random basis for “inspections.”
The aggrieved tenants have also signed onto the fight to pass “good cause eviction” in Albany before the end of the legislative session. That bill would provide all tenants statewide the right to a lease renewal and would essentially cap rent increases at 3 percent annually unless a landlord could justify a larger one. Landlords have lobbied heavily against it, but proponents say that the legislation would prevent landlords like Greenbrook from deliberately displacing tenants.
State Sen. Jabari Brisport, who represents Bed-Stuy and is co-sponsoring the legislation, says that a substantial majority of requests for constituent services his office receives relate to tenants who cannot pay their rent or find affordable housing.
“We have been getting people saying, I need help with my rent, or I just need housing,” Brisport told Brooklyn Paper. “People feel like they have nowhere to go, they feel they’re being pushed out of the city.”
The city is facing down a gradually-brewing rent crisis on multiple fronts after a two-year pandemic-era reprieve. After dropping significantly during the pandemic, rents are once again climbing to record highs in the Big Apple, and scores of market-rate tenants are being asked for hundreds of dollars in upcharges in monthly payments that they often cannot afford. Meanwhile, the Rent Guidelines Board has suggested it might allow increases for rent-stabilized tenants of up to 9 percent, a figure that Mayor Eric Adams has expressed sympathy for owing to the plight of “mom-and-pop” landlords, who have seen increases in their input costs during the pandemic.
The end of the eviction moratorium has meant a return to eviction proceedings at Housing Court; landlords are filing so many evictions that there are not enough lawyers to represent all the bounced tenants, as required by city law, though the court says that’s not their problem and operations will continue.
“This needs to become a bigger issue,” Brisport said. “We only have five weeks left in the legislative session. And if [good cause eviction] doesn’t pass, then we have to wait all the way until next year. And to think of all the people that may lose their homes and the roof over their head if we don’t pass it by the time the session ends in June is scary.”
The bill has 22 co-sponsors in the State Senate and 57 in the Assembly, but in neither chamber does it yet have enough support to pass. Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie have not taken public positions on the proposal.
Greenbrook did not respond to a request for comment.