Tenants, pols pile on Two Trees building that overcharged rent-stabilized residents

Tenants, pols pile on Two Trees building that overcharged rent-stabilized residents
Photo by Louise Wateridge

It is a full Court Street press!

Brooklyn developer Two Trees is battling current and former tenants in court in the wake of an expose that revealed it overcharged rent-stabilized residents in a building at Court Street and Atlantic Avenue for years while government regulators turned a blind eye — and now local pols are demanding the state put the entire property under the microscope and ensure anyone who has been screwed-over receives a hefty check.

“It is deeply distressing that the task of identifying rental overcharges, and obtaining restitutions when overcharges are identified, falls to the tenants themselves,” Councilman Steve Levin (D–Boerum Hill) and Assemblywoman Jo Ann Simon (D–Brooklyn Heights) wrote in a letter demanding the state investigate the rent history of all units in the Downtown building and pay back any affected tenants triple the damages.

The state’s Department of Homes and Community Renewal, however, claims policing rent-stabilized buildings is not its responsibility, and the pols should go after the city’s Housing Department instead — which in turn responded that it is up to the state to regulate.

In the meantime, it is up to the tenants to fight for the money they believe they are owed in court.

A December report from investigative news outlet Pro Publica revealed the developer had overcharged rent-stabilized tenants for years after the building opened in 2005, but government regulators did nothing, despite giving the company more than $10 million in tax cuts for the capped-price units through the 421-a program.

Two Trees claims it rectified the problem in 2013, lowering its rents and paying tenants back plus interest, but some residents claim they are still being charged too much.

One current tenant is battling eviction proceedings after he refused to pay nearly $7,000 a month for a one-bedroom apartment that he moved into when it was priced at $3,900 six years ago, with the expectation that the rent would stay within his means.

“No middle-class person could afford a rent like this,” said Jeff Goodman, who has been involved in three separate legal fights with the developer. “We’re middle-class people, that’s why we’re in a rent-stabilized apartment.”

Two Trees claims the rent hike was within allowable rent stabilization increases, but Goodman claims it is basing its calculations off fraudulent documents.

A housing court judge ordered Goodman to cough up $26,000 in back rent, and a rep for Two Trees says it is about time, claiming he and his partner are putting on a show to get media and pols in his corner.

“These are luxury tenants who have broken the terms of their lease again and again, who owe us hundreds of thousands of dollars in rent, and who are trying to manipulate the press and local elected officials to try to make us settle,” said public relations rep Jeremy Soffin. But Goodman is now contesting the ruling in the state Supreme Court, and Levin and Simon are taking his side, asking the court to put a hold on eviction proceedings until an investigation is complete.

“There shouldn’t be eviction proceedings until we get a clearer picture of what’s going on,” said Levin.

Reach reporter Lauren Gill at lgill@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260–2511. Follow her on Twitter @laurenk_gill

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