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Lawyer to ESDC: don't condemn buildings with rent-stabilized tenants

Attorney George Locker, who represents four rent-stabilized residential tenants at 624 Pacific Street and ten rent-stabilized residential tenants at 473 Dean Street--both buildings now owned by Atlantic Yards developer Forest City Ratner--has protested plans by the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) to use eminent domain to take over those buildings.

Locker's argument: the rent-stabilization laws should not be trumped by the ESDC, and thus the process should be significantly delayed.

"Drunk on... eminent domain"

In comments submitted last Friday to the ESDC, Locker wrote dramatically:
FCR met with and then repeatedly urged my clients to surrender their Rent Stabilized leases, under terms and conditions that were illegal and confiscatory. As the project has progressed, my clients also have witnessed FCR literally empty and destroy their thriving and growing neighborhood. In June 2006, drunk on the power of eminent domain, FCR terrorized my clients at 624 Pacific Street by illegally using a backhoe to demolish 622 Pacific Street -- and shake their building for good measure -- in violation of the City demolition permit and in violation of a City stop work order.

(Photo copyright David Gochfeld)

No condemnations?

Locker repeated some of the concerns he'd expressed about "friendly condemnations," the ESDC's plans to use eminent domain for all of the property in the project. The state agency says it's to clear title; Locker says it's to clear tenants.

He pointed out, among other things, that at a City Council meeting last year, the developer titled a chart “FCR has substantially reduced the need for condemnation." The message, he said, is "that tenants in FCR-owned buildings would not lose their homes to eminent domain/condemnation."

"We regard none of these condemnations as “friendly”, a phrase intended only to mislead the general public," he wrote, adding that the process would serve to erase his clients' rights.

Fewer hoops

While a private developer who wants to demolish a building with rent-stabilized tenants must get a state permit and compensate tenants thoroughly, FCR is using an end-around, Locker argued, offering the tenants "essentially nothing in return," compared to the money and succession rights they retain now.

He wrote:
The so-called Relocation Plan (“Relocation”) proposed by ESDC for my clients deprives them of substantial financial compensation and other rights to which they are entitled under the Rent Stabilization law.
Moreover, by limiting relocation essentially to providing the services of a real estate broker, ESDC ignores the high cost of rental real estate in areas that are generally no less desirable than the present neighborhood.

What the ESDC offers

The state offers the following relocation assistance:
--referrals to alternative housing
--moving services and expenses will be provided.
--a one-time payment of $5,000 per household

The General Project Plan states:
The above described residential relocation program is the minimum assistance that will be provided. The Project Sponsors have entered into a Community Benefits Agreement whereby they agreed to provide certain enhanced benefits to occupants who were in occupancy of their residence for at least one year. Such benefits include the right to return and to rent a comparable unit within the Project Site at a comparable rate to what they are currently paying.

What Forest City Ratner hasn't offered, however, is proof that it would provide sufficient interim rental assistance for those tenants.

A New York landlord-tenant story

For an astounding story that shows how the combination of rent-stabilization laws and a truly obdurate tenant can make life miserable for a landlord who's offered much more than what the state would offer Locker's clients, check out this week's Village Voice.