TPU Reaches Settlement Agreement with Owner to Protect Spanish-Speaking Immigrants
On Jan. 15, Governor Cuomo announced a major settlement agreement between New York State's Tenant Protection Unit (TPU) and Castellan Real Estate Partners/Liberty Place Property Management.
The allegations against Castellan that led the TPU to open its investigation earlier this year included: failure to provide renewal leases; false fees on individuals’ rent statements when tenants have payment receipts; and requesting that tenants provide documents proving income or Social Security numbers to determine citizenship status, all of which are illegal to do to existing leaseholders.
In other cases, the owner’s staff is alleged to have personally threatened tenants, telling them they could face eviction because of their immigration status or lack of proof of adequate income. Tenants also described being pressured to accept inadequate buyouts to leave their rent-regulated homes and waive their rights through English-only settlement documents that were given to tenants who couldn’t read English.
As part of the settlement, Castellan is required to take the following actions:
- Hire a monitor (to be paid by Castellan and approved by TPU) for up to three years to ensure compliance with the terms of the settlement agreement;
- Establish a $100,000 fund, administered by the TPU-approved monitor, to compensate tenants who may have been subject to wrongful conduct;
- Establish new written business policies and procedures that address the owner’s previous improper requests for Social Security numbers and immigration status, and protect all current and future tenants from possible future abuse and violations of local, state, and federal fair housing and antidiscrimination laws;
- Have all of its employees undergo training to prevent future potential abuses of tenants and ensure the owner’s accountability;
- Allow tenants who may have been improperly removed or forced to vacate their homes to move back to a similar apartment; and
- Agree that all future communication and documents directed to tenants will be in both English and Spanish.
Created by Governor Cuomo in 2012, the TPU is charged with proactively enforcing the state's rent laws. To date, the TPU has conducted a random audit of building owners who failed to register their properties in the past four years as required by law. The TPU has also audited certain owners, requesting proof of work done as part of apartment improvements that significantly raised rents and that had been used to move units out of regulation.
As a result of these actions, approximately 500 owners and 1,100 apartments have been audited—and over 2,700 buildings with 28,000 apartments have been re-registered and added back to the rent-stabilization rolls. The TPU has also returned more than $200,000 to tenants who were unknowingly overcharged.