Tenant associations at 229 South 3rd Street and 563 Manhattan Avenue stood together and rallied on April 23rd in front of the South 3rd St. building to call attention to the use of Major Capital Improvement (MCI) charges or fraudulent Individual Apartment Improvement (IAI) charges by landlords to harass rent stabilized tenants into paying unreasonable rent increases. MCIs and IAIs were established as a safeguard to landlords who would need extra revenue to provide major repairs and improvements to their building or an individual unit. However, some landlords abuse the use of MCIs and IAIs in order to permanently increase the rent and eventually move rent stabilized units into a market rate unit. The permanency of the MCI and IAI is highly questionable – for the improvements have a finite cost, yet the increase is applied to infinitely and landlords receive a profit from these improvements once they are paid off.
In the case of the the tenants at 229 South 3rd , these Latinx low-income tenants have averaged 20 years living at this building, and did not face harassment at the hands of their previous landlords. The tenants enlisted the help of Southside United HFDC-Los Sures and Brooklyn Legal Services Corp. A in filing two lawsuits that seek relief for harassment and conditions of disrepair. The tenants claim their present landlord Mohsen Zandieh has established a pattern of harassment toward his immigrant rent regulated tenants in Williamsburg. In addition to allowing his stabilized buildings to fall into unsafe conditions of disrepair it’s also alleged that he harasses the tenants with frequent calls at all hours including late nights and weekend threatening tenants who participate in the tenant association.
For five years, the tenants at 563 Manhattan Avenue have shared a similar struggle against this same landlord. Zandieh filed for a MCI in 2014. $10,000 of improvements claimed in this MCI were disputed by the tenants association as those improvements solely benefitted the commercial space on the ground floor or were otherwise impermissible. However the remainder of the MCI was approved and the tenants’ rents were permanently raised. The 563 Manhattan Ave. tenants allege that Zandieh failed to properly implement the MCI charges and when the tenants refused to pay the incorrect increases he sues them.
NYC’s Anti-Harassment and Tenant Protection Grant and other funding for tenant organizing and affirmative litigation has helped the tenants at 223 South 3rd Street and 563 Manhattan Avenue learn about and stand up for their rights against Mohsen Zandieh, but many other New York City tenants are not lucky enough to live in areas with this kind of community support. The rally called for the City Council and Mayor to pass the new Right to Counsel/Power to Organize Bill recently introduced by CM Mark Levine and CM Vanessa Gibson, to ensure that long-term communities throughout New York City have the community and tenant organizing support that is so critical to empowering tenants against unscrupulous landlords.