Sunday, September 23, 2018

Aaron Carr and The Housing Rights Initiative Investigate Compliance With Tenant Protections

Are Landlords Telling the Truth? The City Doesn’t Always Check. He Does.

An opposing lawyer called Aaron Carr, the founder of the Housing Rights Initiative, “a very
dangerous young man.”CreditCreditHiroko Masuike/The New York Times

Sept. 23, 2018
In New York City, landlords looking to renovate are supposed to tell the Buildings Department whether their tenants are protected by rent regulations. The idea is to prevent harassment by owners seeking to force renters out in order to charge more. But the Buildings Department does not always check to see if the landlords are telling the truth.
Aaron Carr, however, does.
Mr. Carr, 30, is the founder of a start-up tenant watchdog agency, the Housing Rights Initiative, and his specialty is searching public records at state and city agencies to expose what he says is a broken system of tenant protections.
On Monday, Mr. Carr’s latest report is scheduled to be released at a news conference on the steps of City Hall with City Councilman Ritchie Torres of the Bronx. According to H.R.I.’s research, on more than 10,000 building permits filed with the city over the past two years, landlords lied about whether there were rent-regulated tenants in their buildings — and got away with it.
Mr. Torres said that the city, which has made affordable housing a priority, should shoulder an equal amount of the blame. “Just as scandalous as the number of falsified permits is the failure of enforcement by the Department of Buildings,” he said.

City officials said that H.R.I.’s claims are overblown. The Buildings Department has not seen the latest report, but a spokesman, Joseph Soldevere, said that 10,000 permits represent only 3 percent of all the permits issued by the department over the two years in question.

And while the buildings department is hiring 70 new inspectors, he said that a landlord who mistakenly checks the wrong box on a permit application is not necessarily breaking the law.
“Every day, the Buildings Department holds landlords accountable for their obligation to provide safe buildings for tenants, both on our own and through our work on the city-state Tenant Harassment Prevention Task Force,” Mr. Soldevere said.
[Affordable housing in New York is vanishing, despite strong tenant protection laws. How can that happen?]
In its scant two-year existence, H.R.I. has had an oversized impact on landlord-tenant relations: Mr. Carr’s group has issued a series of scathing reports on bad behavior by landlords, enabled by what it says is the failure of state and city government to hold them accountable.
H.R.I. does not stop at issuing reports. It puts together tenants with lawyers willing to work for free or on contingency, and has helped initiate 49 lawsuits, against state and city officials and some of the city’s biggest landlords: A&E Real Estate Holdings, Stellar Management, Bronstein Properties, and, especially, Charles Kushner of Kushner Companies, whose son Jared is a son-in-law and senior adviser to President Trump.

Aaron Carr, who has become a self-appointed enforcer of state rent laws, goes after landlords he suspects
aren’t complying with regulations. PHOTO: MICHAEL BUCHER/THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

Rent Gadfly Takes On New York Landlords, One Building at a Time

Aaron Carr organizes class-action lawsuits against landlords he suspects of breaking the law


Sudesh Chohan was thinking of leaving his Flushing, Queens, apartment after 28 years because he couldn’t afford the latest rent increase. His plans changed when the 62-year-old auto mechanic bumped into Aaron Carr.

At Mr. Carr’s suggestion, Mr. Chohan attended a June meeting at a playground where Mr. Carr said the building’s tenants may have a legal case against their landlord, Kaled Management. Mr. Carr contended that Kaled had overcharged them by ignoring their apartments’ rent-stabilized status, which limits price increases.

In August, Kaled offered tenants refunds, including $6,030 for Mr. Chohan. Ed Kalikow, Kaled’s president, said in a statement tenants were “inadvertently” overcharged and that “making residents financially whole was not only legally compliant, but it was the right thing to do.”

At age 29, Mr. Carr has become New York City’s self-appointed enforcer of state rent laws. Last year, he started a nonprofit, Housing Rights Initiative, through which he organizes class-action lawsuits against landlords he suspects of breaking the law.

He hopes to launch 75 to 100 cases over the coming year to enforce a requirement that landlords who collect a popular tax break known as “J-51” limit rent increases on tenants. For years, regulators let thousands of owners ignore that rule, making housing less affordable for renters like Mr. Chohan.

Property managers and investors are watching with interest since legal settlements of tenant lawsuits can reach millions of dollars. One class-action lawsuit over the J-51 issue resulted in $69 million of refunds for 22,000 tenants at the Stuyvesant Town-Peter Cooper Village residential complex in Manhattan and lowered rents by $105 million. A 2007 class-action case against landlord Pinnacle Group settled for $2.5 million in 2011.
Though noncompliance is common, not all owners are cheating the system. Many in the industry view Mr. Carr’s work with skepticism.

“I look at it as the equivalent of, like, an ambulance chaser,” said Brian Newman, who manages about 30 properties for Heritage Realty, one of the firms targeted by Mr. Carr. The Rent Stabilization Association, a landlord group, calls Mr. Carr’s efforts “nothing more than fishing expeditions.”
Mr. Carr disagrees. “If the landlords are not doing anything wrong, why are they restabilizing units?” he asks. “They’re doing that because they got caught.”

Mr. Carr grew up on Long Island, the only child of an autism researcher and a psychologist. Both parents died in a car crash when he was 20.

“Life took on a whole new meaning,” he said. “I needed to attach myself to things that would have an impact on people’s lives. I may not be able to get back what was stolen from me, but I can get back what has been stolen from others.”
Helping tenants recover overcharges fit that mission. He got the idea while working as chief of staff to New York Assemblyman Michael Blake, a Democrat who represents a gentrifying section of the Bronx.

“There is not a day that goes by that someone is not contacting us about housing concerns,” Mr. Blake said. He recalled seeing “a visceral anger” in Mr. Carr when he learned of owners mistreating tenants.
In early 2016, he left Mr. Blake’s office to launch Housing Rights Initiative, using personal savings and donations to get started. Now he is getting ready to scale-up with a $100,000 crowdfunding campaign.

The campaign kicked off with a dinner hosted by Bill Samuels, a Democratic activist and fundraiser, who was surprised to see Mr. Carr raise more than $23,000. “These events, usually if they raise 10 grand, it’s a lot,” Mr. Samuels said. “I was shocked.”
Sudesh Chodan

Mr. Samuels credited the success to Mr. Carr’s message—an animated power point in which he excoriates regulators. The state housing agency says it “aggressively” enforces rent laws, but Mr. Carr openly mocks that claim, saying city and state agencies have often turned a blind eye to tenants’ plight.
“We all live in an enforcement desert,” he said while standing in front of a slide of the Sahara one August evening when more than 40 residents of eight Manhattan buildings gathered at a Lutheran church to hear him pitch litigation.

When Mr. Carr mentioned his most recent target—Kushner Cos., the real estate empire formerly run by Jared Kushner, President Donald Trump’s son-in-law—he drew applause. After the meeting, tenants lined up to share rent records with Mr. Carr, who scanned them on his iPhone.

Mr. Carr doesn’t file the lawsuits himself. He leaves that to attorneys who agree to charge tenants legal fees only if they prevail. Ten lawsuits have been filed so far, all of which are in various stages of litigation.
Soon after the August meeting, Mr. Carr goes to Civic Hall, a Chelsea co-working space that serves as his informal headquarters, to identify potential plaintiffs. Kim Powell, a tenant activist who helped organize the Pinnacle class-action case, reviews tenant records with him.

“Slam dunk,” she says as they review potential plaintiffs in one building.
Mr. Carr then opens a Google map populated with hundreds of buildings he wants to target for his “J-51 crusade.” The buildings are color-coded by severity of noncompliance. He shows Ms. Powell a cluster in Queens where he believes they should hand out fliers next; one Flushing building sits blocks from Mr. Chohan.
A few days later, Mr. Carr is back in Flushing. Mr. Chohan can’t hide his gratitude, calling him a “messiah” for helping save his home.
Write to Cezary Podkul at
Appeared in the October 10, 2017, print edition as 'Organizer Goes to Bat For Tenants.' 

Saturday, September 1, 2018

Are We Putting the NYC Police Department Above The Law?

Most investigative reporters in New York City know about coverups at the highest levels of City government in great detail, but don't write anything about these potential scandals until it is politically opportune to reveal the details or an editor says to go ahead.

Making powerful people, including major office holders, look "good" is what large public relations companies and government insiders are often paid to do. But there are always whistleblowers, or "sources" who often remain anonymous, and try to speak up. But many people don't want to listen.

Bernie Kerik
I was given information about corruption and fraud by Bernard Kerik before there was any comments in the media about his misconduct. I felt it was important to get the information out to the public months before anything was revealed in print or on television. I called the news desks of the NY Times, Daily News, and NY Post....everyone told me "thanks but no thanks" and hung up. Then, months later, people were shocked and surprised when this information was published, finally. What I am saying is that Kerik could have been apprehended way before he actually was.

The same thing happened with ex-reality TV private eye Vincent Parco and his Attorney Peter Gleason.
Vincent Parco

I forget when I first met Attorney and former firefighter Peter Gleason, or "Pete", but when Pete ran for City Council on 2009 I was a groupie who thought he would be great in this position, as he was an Attorney and a retired fireman.

I did not know that Pete's firefighting days were not exactly fighting fires, but on medical leave. Pete was very nasty to the late journalist Wayne Barrett for exposing the facts behind the face.

Peter Gleason and Anna Gristina

Pete's City Council campaign blew up, after the releasing of his medical records. Pete sued. Pete went back to his law practice.

In 2013, I was asked to help a teacher who was charged with 3020-a, and she wanted to hire an attorney, so I asked Pete if he wanted to work with me on the case. He agreed, and brought in Daniel Geller, who told me he was the son of Uri Geller. I regretted asking Pete to work with me, as he was very insulting to my teacher client, and me as well. I found it difficult to work with him.

Then, Pete told me that he wanted me to meet a friend of his, and he picked me up in his car and drove me to the office of a private investigator with the name of Vincent Parco. I had never heard of "Vinny", nor had I ever seen his TV Show.

What Pete and Vinnie wanted me to  do was help them with a shakedown of a witness in a housing court case who was opposing Pete's client. I was to act like a reporter, and set up an interview which would scare the woman into backing down.

I told Pete and Vinnie NO. That kind of scheme is not something I would ever want to get involved with.

I was taken aback in September 2017 when Vincent Parco was arrested for a similar shakedown, and Peter Gleason is his attorney.

I decided somebody out there would be interested in hearing about how Pete Gleason was helping Vinnie do these sort of actions in 2013-2014, but no one at the DA's Office nor in any newsroom was interested. I am NOT saying that all police personnel are bad. I am saying that misconduct by anyone, whether they are police personnel, government officials, judges, or working citizens/noncitizens, should be reviewed and prosecuted. No one should be above the law.

The media is aware that bed news sells, and sensationalize wrong-doing...when the editors want to:
Teen details how NYPD cops tried to silence her after rape
In fact, there is a Wikipedia page on NYC Police Department Misconduct:

New York City Police Department Corruption and Misconduct

and then there is this:

EXCLUSIVE: NYPD supervisor embroiled in cop rape investigation gets promoted amid claims officers under him intimidated the victim (NY Daily news, Sept. 4, 2018)

NYPD Deputy Inspector Michael Kletzel was promoted to Inspector during a promotion ceremony at
1 Police Plaza Friday (Kevin C. Downs/New York Daily News)
See below for an example of law enforcement cover-ups which have been in the news recently, but way too late.

Betsy Combier
Editor, NYC Rubber Room Reporter
Editor, New York Court Corruption
Editor, National Public Voice
Editor, NYC Public Voice
Editor, Inside 3020-a Teacher Trials


Scout Katovich, Legal Fellow, NYCLU 
Sandra Park, Senior Staff Attorney, ACLU Women's Rights Project

JULY 31, 2018 | 2:30 PM

Evidence continues to mount that the New York Police Department may have a sexual assault and harassment problem on its hands. But rather than face up to the fact that some officers abuse their authority and deal with those officers accordingly, the officers’ union is legally trying to make sure that any allegations of sexual assault or harassment are dealt with internally rather than publicly. 
For decades, the New York City Civilian Complaint Review Board (CCRB) — the independent New York City agency that investigates civilian complaints of misconduct by NYPD officers — automatically referred police sexual misconduct complaints to the NYPD for internal examination, while it investigated a wide range of other police misconduct, like excessive use of force.  
In one of the complaints that the CCRB forwarded to the NYPD, a woman recounted repeated sexual harassment by the same officer. In 2014, when the woman was questioned by an NYPD officer at a crime-scene investigation, the officer gave her his number under the pretense that she may need to reach him if she remembered something that could be relevant to the investigation. But when she encountered him next, he asked her why she never called and made comments about the size of his penis. The third time she encountered him, in 2016, when he entered her holding cell after she had been arrested, he told her “suck my dick.”
In a welcome move, the CCRB clarified in February of this year that it will now investigate such civilian complaints of police sexual misconduct. The CCRB has jurisdiction under New York City law to investigate police “abuse of authority,” and it should go without saying that sexual harassment and violence committed by police are abuses of authority.
Police officers have an enormous amount of power when interacting with or detaining civilians. Their decisions could put someone behind bars for days, months, or years. Charging someone with a crime, even if they are not convicted, can impact a person’s job prospects, housing status, and other critical aspects of their lives.
Anyone who has ever interacted with a police officer understands this lopsided power dynamic. When police officers engage in sexual misconduct, they are taking advantage of this imbalance, whether they know it or not.
Yet, the city’s largest police union, the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, has brought a legal challenge to the CCRB’s February sexual misconduct resolution. It seeks to keep such allegations of sexual abuse by NYPD officers in the control of the NYPD and out of the public eye, in part by arguing that police sexual misconduct is not an “abuse of authority.”
In June, The New York Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU’s Women’s Rights Project filed a proposed amicus brief in the case, arguing that the CCRB can lawfully investigate complaints of NYPD sexual misconduct. These investigations, we argue, are essential to safeguarding the rights of women, LGBT people, and others vulnerable to sexual abuse and to promoting police transparency and accountability.
Police sexual misconduct is alarmingly common. A recent survey of over 700 cases of sexual misconduct by law enforcement personnel nationally showed that, on average, a police officer is caught in an act of sexual misconduct at least every five days. Another found that in just one year 618 officers were implicated in sexual misconduct, making it the second most commonly reported form of police misconduct after excessive use of force.

These numbers are also under-inclusive. We know that only one in three women report sexual assault generally, and those numbers are surely lower when victims are told to report the abuse to the very people who perpetrated it.
Because the NYPD does not publicly disclose information about complaints of sexual misconduct that it receives, the scope of this crisis in New York is not fully known. But one study surveyingalmost 1,000 youth in New York City found that two out of five young women had been sexually harassed by police officers. High-profile incidents of horrific abuse also reveal a troubling problem that must be addressed.
Most recently, an appalling account of two NYPD officers raping an 18-year old in the back of an unmarked van sparked outrage and resulted in the officers facing criminal charges. Disturbingly, they have defended themselves by claiming the encounter was consensual, even though the teen was in police custody. The power dynamics inherent in police-civilian interactions make it impossible for a person to consent in these circumstances.  
The International Association of Chiefs of Police recognizes sexual misconduct as a “behavior ... that takes advantage of the officer’s position in law enforcement to misuse authority and power.” The fact that police sexual misconduct is inflicted disproportionately on vulnerable members of society, including women of color, sex workers, drug users, immigrants, people with disabilities, LGBT people, and victims of domestic violence — underscore the abuse of authority inherent in this type of abuse.
The CCRB’s investigation of these complaints is an essential step towards increasing police accountability for sexual abuse and harassment of civilians. By providing an independent reporting mechanism, the CCRB can help combat rampant underreporting of police sexual misconduct. The CCRB will also be able to track and analyze these complaints and make informed recommendations to shape NYPD internal policies, which as of now do not explicitly address sexual harassment of civilians. 
What little information is made public about internal NYPD sexual misconduct investigations reveals an agency that tolerates sexual harassment and abuse by NYPD officers, even against their own colleagues, and an internal investigation and discipline system that consistently fails victims of sexual abuse.
The NYPD provides no guidelines regarding the process through which civilian complaints of sexual misconduct are handled. The Brooklyn teenager who was allegedly raped in the police van reported that at least nine NYPD officers came to her hospital room to discourage her from completing a rape kit.
Most recently, the city’s Department of Investigation issued a damning report on the NYPD’s systemic failures to adequately staff and provide resources for the investigation of sex crimes, which “re-traumatizes victims” and “negatively impacts the reporting of sex crimes, thereby adversely affecting public safety.” The fact that the department does a poor job responding to sexual assault complaints committed by civilians underlines how little they can be trusted when it comes to sexual assault complaints regarding NYPD officers.
It’s past time for NYPD sexual misconduct to have its #MeToo moment. Independent investigation by the CCRB will help ensure that these complaints will be dealt with fairly and will help shape a more transparent, accountable, and trustworthy police force.