Rent-Stabilized Residents At 85 Livingston Fuming Over Rent Hike

Residents of 85 Livingston Street at the Brooklyn Heights/Downtown Brooklyn border are battling a $60 to $90 a month rent hike for 30 or so rent-stabilized units in the coop building, saying it will “devastate” the mostly elderly folks living in those apartments. While the majority of the building was converted to coops in 1989, developer Mark Teitelbaum—who owns the rental units—insists that improvements to the building warrant the increase.

The New York Daily News reported Tuesday May 29 that Teitelbaum insists the hike is justified because he financed work to caulk and waterproof bricks on the building’s facade that co-op owners in the building decided to do.

The issue in question: Those renovations began in 2004, while Teitelbaum filed with the state Department of Housing and Community Renewal for the rent increase two years after the work was finished. Initially, his application was denied, but he appealed and the agency reversed its decision. On Thursday, DHCR issued an order upholding the rent increase, saying work on the building continued long enough that the application met the deadline.

In addition to the monthly increase of $60-$90 a month, Teitelbaum is demanding $2,500 in retroactive rent from each tenant. He originally owned 75 rental apartments in the building, and has sold them at market value as tenants moved out. Note: The Daily News story evades what seems to be an important detail: What the current monthly rent is for any of those 23-year stabilized units.

Residents insist the DHCR decree to increase rent isn’t valid, since Teitelbaum didn’t file for the hike until 2008. They also claim it will displace the elderly, including 94-year-old Margaret Cafiero, who has lived at 85 Livingston Street for 30+ years: “It’s putting a burden on people to raise the rent so much at one time,” she told the Daily News. “It’s like fighting City Hall; you never win.”

However, Deputy Commissioner Woody Pascal wrote about the Thursday decision, “At their core, the tenants’ primary objections are based on the impact of the increase rather than its supporting factual basis. DHCR must administer the increase in accordance with law.”

Zaida Concepcion, 62, another resident who has lived in the building 35 years, said, “He wants us out. He wants the apartments. He’s licking his chops, waiting for them.”

City Councilman Steve Levin (D-Brooklyn Heights), is siding with residents: “Almost every one of the renters are senior citizens, and many on fixed incomes. If these rent increases go through, some of these seniors may be out on the street.”

Read the Daily News story here.

(Photo: New York Daily News)

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  • travy

    c’mon mark it’s clear what’s going on here. rent control tenants are getting muscled out by a new developer. and i’m quite comfortable with ‘sociopath’ in referring to those of you pushing the argument, ‘they’ve had it good for too long so fuk ’em’

    rent control is what it is. you want to change it, write your council person, but even if it was changed these people would be grandfathered in so basically all of you are advocating throwing out fixed income retirees who have done nothing wrong.

    like i said up top, jerks

  • Livingston


    Could you can the “potty mouth” in favor of a cogent argument? You really aren’t making a lot of sense and insulting those who don’t agree w/ you will not help win any converts.

  • shamrock

    The matter is a bit more complex and I don’t think there’s an easy answer. I think it’s fair to say there is a BIG difference between rent stabilization and rent control. I can’t speak for what the tenants are paying at 85 Livingston, but most rent stabilized apartments aren’t as cheap as one would think these days (certainly not fair market value either). Also think it’s fair to say 85 Livingston is certainly not a “luxury building”.

    It’s tricky, and I say complex, as there are people who do seem to take advantage on both sides of the rent stabilization/control guidelines. Inevitably seems like there are always smaller landlords with just a few apartments that often end up bearing the brunt of housing costs etc…(heating oil, for instance), but without a doubt, far more of the larger landlords are not hurting, by any means. Sadly, we have some rent control tenants living in three bedroom apartments paying next to nothing who also own properties in some of the wealthiest locations in the nation, but I believe by far the vast majority of rent stabilized and rent control tenants don’t take advantage of their housing.

    As others have stated, rent regulation and affordable housing does seem necessary, especially for the elderly. I hope management can come to some type of reasonable agreement with the 85 Livingston tenants. It’s a sad situation what’s happening with housing. Regardless of what’s said, pro or con about rent stabilization, housing in NYC is a travesty.

  • hoppy

    “Also think it’s fair to say 85 Livingston is certainly not a ‘luxury building’”.

    If memory serves, wasn’t one of the tenants/shareholders in this building featured on a “reality” show about hoarders and/or people who never clean?

  • BH’er

    It seems that people get upset on the rent stabilization issue because it is applied unfairly (usually through political connections) and shifts the cost burden to others in (an otherwise) free market system

    While it is certainly unfair to force people to move, the same rules apply to everyone else. If John Smith loses his job (or otherwise faces foreclosure), he would be forced to move despite ties to his community, proximity to friends and family and other reasons.

    The answer to this issue is uncertain, but we all must agree that certain people get a very sweet deal while the immediate neighbors are forced to carry the burden through offsetting prices

    The system could easily be more fair to continually adjust prices – until then the underlying message remains: get your hands on good property and stay there no matter what and it will pay for itself in spades

    The following is surprising:
    “…now about one million apartments in the City are covered by rent stabilization. Rent stabilized tenants are protected from sharp increases in rent…”

    $60-90/month does not sound like an unfair increase, even for a fixed income… unless it represents >10% of the current rent, which would be only $600/month

    Favoring full disclosure, let’s hear what the tenants are actually paying before we judge what is fair

  • Willowtowncop

    I don’t see how waterproofing bricks is a major capitol improvement – it sounds to me like basic maintenance. If there were improvements made I wouldn’t have a problem with the rent increases – until you get to the part about wanting retro rent increases. That just puts the guy into the a-hole of the year category for me.

  • Willowtowncop

    I also disagree completely with the person who said apartments are meant to be temporary. The idea that everyone needs to buy property and be neck deep in a mortgage and tied to a place they make get sick of living in with a person they may get sick of living with is a total scam. That and the college scam are the reasons this country is in such bad shape.

  • O/mar

    /It’s a very easy situation to fix.,just let the landlords OPEN there books. I know what I am talking about. I live in a rent stable apt and also I am a landlord.

  • Winstion Smith

    To those who say control/stabilization is “not fair for the landlords”. There are very few, if any, landlords today who were around before rent laws went into effect, meaning they bought their properties with full knowledge of what the deal was. Honestly, has anyone heard of a landlord going bankrupt because of rent laws?

  • Hicks St Guy

    Winstion, it often hurts small landlords, as previously noted.
    @WillowtowC, college scam?

  • Winstion Smith

    Hicks St Guy, define “hurts” Does that mean the small landlords cannot effectively maintain their properties or don’t make as much profit as they wish?

  • She’s Crafty

    @Winstion Smith: the question is, do you think landlords are entitled to make a profit, or do you think they should run their lives/buildings as non profts, just breaking even? Being a landlord is a business. My parents were landlords and it’s a lot of work. Are landlords just not supposed to expect to make a profit at all? They should maintain and improve the building you live in, for free? Give me a break. No one would be a landlord if that’s the case, which means you and many others would have no place to live.

  • Esther

    Rent Stabilization doesn’t prevent a landlord from making a profit. Its intention is to prevent profiteering.

    If a landlord is only “breaking even” he can file for hardship rent increases. That is quite the rare case, though.

    Nobody would have a place to live if there weren’t landlords? lol Give me a break.

    Besides, we’re all living on stolen land, anyway.

  • Livingston

    One man’s “profiteering” is another man’s free market economy.

  • Esther

    True. What a difference a conscience makes.

  • Livingston

    @ Esther:

    You might want to consider moving to a place with a “planned economy”. I’m sure there are folks now living in Brighton Beach who can give you the inside scoop on how well this system worked.

  • Esther

    I’ve got no idea what you are talking about.

    All I need to know about, though, is human nature. We have laws and regulations for a reason. Of course we appreciate the ones that protect us and abhor the ones that inconvenience us. There is a reason that some laws might keep a landlord from making the profit he wants, just as there are laws that keep a drug dealer from doing whatever he wants. This is a “free” country – but we still must follow laws in order to co-exist so that ALL of us have a chance to actually live. Too bad some people don’t seem to be equipped with the tools to actually, truly care about others. This earth belongs to all of us – we all need a place to live. None of us are entitled to the wealth we desire and none of us NEEDS great profits to survive.

  • Gerry

    We need rent protection laws for a variety of reasons. And for every rent stabilized apartment a landlord has he has another 3 apartments that he is getting well over market rent or has sold as a co/op.

    These tenants have the law on their side and no judge in Houseing Court will ever throw them out – Amen!

  • yoohoo

    Does any of the posters know that building’s financial set-up? I live in a co-op which had an eviction plan but senior citizens were protected and could remain in the apartments they occupied at the time of conversion. Lucky for our co-op, the sponsor agreed to sell the bloc of shares of these apartments to the co-op corporation shortly after conversion. Based on the few facts posted, Teitelbaum appears to own the bloc of shares of the rent-stabilized apartments in this Livingston Street building. That makes him a shareholder, who has to pay the co-op’s pro-rated maintenance costs based on the number of shares he owns. He is entitled to raise the rents of “his” apartments according to the Rent Stabilization Board’s guidelines that are issued periodically. If these periodic rent increases don’t cover his prorated share of the co-op’s annual expenses, he applies for a future rent surcharge and a lump sum in back-rents, but he must open his books to show justification.

  • Steven

    I’m a little confused here. I live in a stabilized apartment as do some of my friends. Our rents are only slightly below market and the landlord gets an increase every year that’s far above the the general rate of inflation. The cost of housing (including stabilized housing), like the cost of health care, seems to grow exponentially.

    The advantage of a rent stabilized unit is less about the amount you pay and more about the protection from unfair increases from the landlord. Our landlord can only take the stabilized increase and can’t, on a whim, double our rent to force us out because they don’t like us for some reason.

    Soon enough we’ll be paying market rate anyway, but at least we know what our increase will be for the next renewal and can plan ahead.

    I have no doubt our landlord is making massive profits.

    If these seniors are in stabilized apartments then they are paying a lot of money already. The landlord has gotten somewhere between a 4 and 6 percent increase in rent for every lease renewal and if they’ve been in the apartments for 30 plus years, then that’s a lot of lease renewals. By now their apartments are probably market or close to it.

    On the other hand, if they are rent controlled, then the rent remains much cheaper. Most people with rent controlled apartments are seniors on a low fixed income with no where else to go.

    Our neighbor was rent controlled. He’d been in our building for over 50 years. His rent was quite low. Well under $1000 for a $2,500 space. He was a lovely man in his eighties with no real family and a low fixed income. For the last year or so he was quite frail. Sure, the landlord was probably taking a loss on his apartment, but what’s the alternative? Throw him out on the street? Have we really sunk that low as a society? He passed away at home a few years ago with at least a modicum of dignity. The apartment was renovated and is now renting at market.

    Once a rent controlled tenant dies, the unit goes to market rate. I don’t think new controlled units are being created and there are very few controlled units left anyway. Eventually all the controlled tenants will pass away and those units will go market as well.

    These seniors, as far as I can tell from the original article, are stabilized not controlled, and are therefore probably paying a fair amount for their current space. I can certainly see how the extra monthly rent, and even more, the $2,500 in back rent, would be a severe hardship. I certainly can’t blame them for fighting it.

    I doubt very much that the landlord is taking any kind of loss or breaking even on these units. It seems to me that he’s just being heartless. It saddens me when landlords forget that their tenants are human beings and not marks on a balance sheet.

    One more thing. Someone early in the thread said that apartments are meant to be temporary housing.

    At least in New York City, most people live in apartments for their entire lives, and when you find a good one that works for you, you stick with it. I lived in my tiny apartment in Greenwich Village for 20 plus years and left to move in with my husband here in Brooklyn Heights 10 years ago.

    I love my home, my neighbors, and my community, and I hope I can afford to stay for the rest of my life.