"If the landlord really did $100,000 improvements on some of these apartments, there should be permits," said Lucas Ferrara, who is representing the tenants with his colleague Roger Sachar.
By: DANIEL GEIGER
A class action suit against Bronstein Properties that accuses the landlord of inflating or fabricating the cost of renovation work to raise rents in regulated apartments can proceed, according to a ruling in State Supreme Court yesterday.
Bronstein, owner of 150 buildings in Brooklyn, Queens and Manhattan with about 6,500 mostly regulated apartment units, had sought to dismiss the case.
A year ago, 67 residents in several Bronstein buildings sued, alleging in part that the company had falsley claimed it had performed renovations on apartments that showed little or no evidence of improvement. The company then allegedly used the upgrades to justify dramatic rent increases that were in excess of 100% in several apartments.
The state rules governing the city's roughly 900,000 rent-regulated apartments allow a landlord of buildings with more than 35 units to raise an apartment's monthly rent by one-60th the amount spent on an improvement to the apartment and in buildings with 35 or fewer units, by one-40th. Landlords of regulated apartments generally push up rents using the renovations and other methods, sometimes by enough to cross a deregulation threshold that allows the unit to be converted to market rate.
With its dismissal pushed aside, Bronstein is now subject to discovery in which it could be forced to turn over internal evidence.
Among the reasons cited for allowing residents to pursue their case against Bronstein Properties was the suspicious fact that the landlord filed almost no building permits for any of the alleged apartment renovations—even for upgrades where it claimed to have spent $100,000 or more. Generally substantial renovations involve work that requires permits with the building department.
"If the landlord really did $100,000 improvements on some of these apartments, there should be permits," said Lucas Ferrara, who is representing the tenants with his colleague Roger Sachar. "Does that mean the work wasn't really done? Now we're going to find out."
The lawsuit against Bronstein Properties is one of several class action lawsuits pressed against major landlords alleging they fraudulently raised regulated rents or converted affordable apartments to market rate based on phony or exaggerated renovations. Ferrara and Sachar are handling similar cases against Stellar Management and A&E Real Estate as well.
A spokesman for Bronstein Properties didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.