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Vantage Properties, which owns more than 80 buildings in Queens, agreed to pay $1 million to compensate harassed tenants as part of a settlement that state Attorney General Andrew Cuomo announced Thursday.
The settlement comes after Cuomo said at the end of January that he planned to sue Vantage to stop it from forcing tenants from their homes in order to rent the apartment to individuals who could pay for more expensive, market-price units.
“Landlords who harass tenants harm all New York City residents by displacing long-time tenants from stable neighborhoods and exacerbating the affordable housing shortage,” Cuomo said. “In these tough economic times, the preservation of affordable housing is of the utmost importance. Today’s agreement with Vantage not only preserves the rent-regulated apartments owned by them, but also sends a strong message that my office will continue to protect tenants and bring unscrupulous landlords to justice.”
As part of the settlement, Vantage will stop serving tenants with “baseless legal notices” and no longer conduct “frivolous housing court eviction proceedings,” according to Cuomo. The company also must implement new policies related to processing complaints, initiating legal proceedings and collecting rent as part of the agreement with the attorney general’s office.
The agreement requires Vantage to pay $750,000 in damages to tenants who can demonstrate the company unjustly vacated their apartments or were subject to frivolous housing court proceedings. The company must pay an additional $250,000 to nonprofit organizations that provide free legal and educational services to tenants.
Additionally, Vantage must hire an independent monitor to conduct a review of all tenant harassment complaints and provide translation services to tenants who need it regarding questions on landlord-tenant issues. The company must also hire an independent auditor to oversee compliance with the terms of the agreement and anti-harassment tenant protection laws. Vantage has to submit reports to the attorney general’s office for three years demonstrating compliance with the agreement.
“Vantage was founded with the goal of bringing positive and much-needed change to New York’s ailing affordable housing industry,” Vantage said in a statement Thursday. The “agreement on affordable housing best practices represents another milestone for Vantage in our pursuit of this goal and will help set new standards for this residential housing industry in New York City.”
Vantage owns and operates nearly 10,000 apartment units, many of which are rent-regulated, in about 150 buildings throughout the city. It acquired many of its 80 Queens buildings in such areas as Corona, Elmhurst, Jackson Heights, Sunnyside and Woodside from notorious landlord Nicholas Haros in 2008.
Residents in the buildings have long complained of systemic abuse from Vantage, including frivolous lawsuits and maintenance concerns such as broken elevators and little or no heat in the winter.
Teresa Perez, president of the Queens Vantage Tenants Council, said tenants have long been harassed or evicted by Vantage.
“These families invested time and money into these communities to make them into a place where they can raise their families, and they’re being told they have to leave,” Perez said. “They’re being told they’re not good enough to live here anymore.”
Queens residents often staged protests against Vantage, and tenants have formed a union representing more than 1,300 borough residents.
The attorney general’s agreement with Vantage is available at ag.ny.gov/media_center/2010/feb/Vantage_AOD.pdf.
Reach reporter Anna Gustafson by e-mail at email@example.com or by phone at 718-260-4574.
©2010 Community Newspaper Group
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