Queens Owner Didn’t Get Permission to Modify Front Door Lock

New York Attorney General Letitia James recently announced agreements with an owner and a security firm over repeated violations of rent stabilization laws. The agreements resolve violations relating to the modification of a front door lock of the rent-stabilized building located in Flushing, Queens, which ultimately led to several of the building’s mostly Chinese tenants forfeiting their rent-stabilized apartments. Under the terms of the agreements, the companies will implement a series of measures that are inclusive of all tenants, undergo antidiscrimination training, and donate $50,000 to nonprofit organizations that focus on tenant organizing in Asian communities.

In 2017, after acquiring the occupied rent-stabilized rental building, the owner submitted initial offering documents to the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) to convert the building to a condominium. The sponsor hired SW Security Services to change the building’s front door lock system to an electronic access system. But the sponsor didn’t apply to the DHCR for permission to change the door lock, in violation of the state’s rent stabilization guidance.

The subsequent key fob distribution process was also overly burdensome on tenants and excluded certain individuals. Tenants were incorrectly told to present a valid New York State ID or other government-issued ID to receive their new key fob. At the time, only U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents qualified for government-issued IDs, leaving the significant number of noncitizen and non-legal permanent resident Chinese tenants of the building with the impression that they weren’t entitled to access their own homes. According to DHCR guidance, owners must accept any form of identification from tenants as long as it contains a photo of the tenant. It’s impermissible for a rent-stabilized owner to require an ID issued by a certain state or jurisdiction.

Additionally, the OAG’s investigation found that in March 2018, when SW Security Services distributed key fobs to tenants, the company’s Director of Investigations impermissibly recorded information from tenant IDs, including the jurisdiction issuing the ID and the address listed. The security company then used the information from the IDs as a basis for recommending 13 private investigations into certain tenants. Ten of the 13 tenants were individuals with Chinese surnames. Both the sponsor and management company authorized those investigations, which resulted in seven of the tenants — six of whom had Chinese surnames — to forfeit their apartments.