NY Post: Thousands of Homeless New Yorkers Could Be Treated as Legal Tenants
MONDAY, AUGUST 28, 2017

The Legal Aid Society has a pending lawsuit that would extend NYS tenant protection laws and regulations to families currently residing in cluster shelter sites.




NY Post
Thousands of Homeless New Yorkers Could Be Treated as Legal Tenants
By Carl Campanile
August 27, 2017

Thousands of homeless New Yorkers who get free shelter in apartment complexes throughout the city could be treated as legal tenants — protected by rent regulations and lower rent caps — under a potentially precedent-setting case brought by the Legal Aid Society.

The Brooklyn Supreme Court suit accuses landlords of skirting emergency-tenant-protection and rent-stabilization laws by filling apartment units with people sent by the Department of Homeless Services (DHS), and then charging the city at or above market rates.

But the defendant-landlord in the case warned that building owners will pull out of the city’s controversial “cluster shelter” program to aid the homeless if the apartments they set aside for homeless occupants are no longer exempt from rent limits.

Arguments are scheduled for Sept. 12 before Judge Peter Sweeney.

The case centers on seven rent-stabilized buildings in Brooklyn owned and operated by Barry Hers on Clarkson Avenue (60, 250 and 270) and at 279 Kosciusko St., 401 East 21st St., 553 Hinsdale St. and 666 Hancock St.

“This is a scheme by landlords to evade the rent laws,” said Legal Aid staff attorney Kathleen Brennan, who brought the case on behalf of a group of homeless occupants at 60 Clarkson Ave.

She said the fact that homeless occupants themselves don’t sign the lease or pay the rent is “irrelevant” to their right to be treated as legal tenants, not temporary occupants.

While the DHS pays the rent to shelter the homeless, it does so indirectly. The city contracts with nonprofit service providers, which then sign leases with landlords to pay the rent of behalf of homeless individuals and families.

Brennan said some of the homeless occupants have resided at the buildings for years and should be treated like other tenants.

“They should be treated like tenants from the beginning,” she said.

The bigger problem, she charges, is that the exemption from rent limits under the cluster program takes rent-regulated apartments off the market, hurting all New Yorkers seeking affordable housing.

“It’s robbing Peter to pay Paul,” she said.

Hers’ lawyer, Nativ Winiarsky, claims in court papers that “no future landlord would ever consider participating in providing housing to homeless families” if they are forced to limit rents to provide emergency homeless housing.

In court papers, Hers said city officials never deemed homeless occupants as legal tenants when they approached him for help in 2001.

Mayor de Blasio last year proposed to phase out the use of cluster-site homeless shelters that have served upwards of 11,000 people in 3,600 apartment units because of shoddy conditions and the removal of low-rent apartments. DHS said it has already closed 1,000 units, or 28 percent.

City lawyers, recently added as defendants in the case, have yet to file any court papers on where it stands. The city Law Department declined to comment on the case.



This article originally appeared on NY Post.