By: LIZETH BELTRAN
One of three landlord groups challenging the state’s newly reformed rent laws will now face the claims of more than 100 tenants who allege they were illegally overcharged for rent-stabilized units in Queens.
A suit that was filed in August 2018 by Jacobus and Kathryn Gomes against Vermyck LLC has gotten the green light to move forward as a class action lawsuit that will look to appropriate damages against the landlord.
Vermyck, which is owned and operated by George Mycak, is accused of violating the J-51 program by charging tenants free-market rent and neglecting to offer rent-stabilized leases at 28-30 34th Street in Astoria.
Out of 84 units, Vermyck listed only 21 as rent-stabilized—all the while receiving J-51 tax benefits that legally require all units to be rent-stabilized—and for tenants to receive the appropriate riders detailing the tax credit and the benefits’ expiration date, according to court documents.
The judge’s decision comes on the heels of Vermyck, alongside two other landlord groups, taking on the state in a suit filed earlier this month claiming that the revamped rent laws passed in June are unconstitutional.
The Rent Stabilization Association and the Community Housing Improvement Program are spearheading the charge against the new laws, backing the landlord groups in the suit that was filed in the East District of New York.
According to Aaron Carr, founder and executive director of housing watchdog group Housing Rights Initiative, it is "ironic" that a landlord accused of flouting the old rent laws is now suing to challenge the new ones—and all with the support of the RSA.
“The RSA does its members no favor by turning a blind eye to fraud," Carr said in a statement. “Lawless landlords put lawful landlords at a competitive disadvantage. If I were a member of the RSA, I'd ask for my money back."
The RSA, however, took Carr’s statements to task, arguing that the association in no way endorses the sort of conduct that he suggests its turns a blind eye to.
“This is a property owner who has been accused of something,” said Mitchell Posilkin, general counsel for the RSA. “He hasn’t been found to have done anything wrong—it is a mere allegation.”
Posilkin called Carr’s suggestions baseless and said the case should play itself out before anyone casts judgment on an individual or an organization.
“I think this is just an attempt to distract people from the merits and the substance of the constitutional challenge to the rent laws,” Posilkin said.
Lucas Ferrara of the law firm Newman Ferrara, who is representing the Gomes' and the rest of the tenants in the suit against Vermyck, said in a statement that the constitutional challenge to the new laws is in troubled waters if Vermyck is representative of landlords harmed by the new tenant protections.
An investigation conducted by HRI lead to the tenants’ lawsuit.
Crain’s reached out to Vermyck’s legal counsel, but they did not immediately respond.