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Know Your Rights
Source: Greenpoint Gazette
Subject: Housing & Environmental Justice
Type: Media Coverage

Who’s Your Landlord?

Amidst the sweltering August heat, dozens of members of
community-based organization Make the Road New York gathered together
outside of 199 Lee Street in South Williamsburg, in support of a piece
of brand new legislation that aims to promote transparency and
accountability for landlords across the city.

corporate landlord registration legislation, or the Multiple Dwelling
Registration Bill, is slated to be introduced to the City Council on
Thursday. Sponsored by Councilmember Melissa Mark-Viverito of Harlem
and crafted in conjunction with Make the Road New York and South
Brooklyn Legal Services, the bill will amend the New York City
Administrative Code to require landlords organized as corporations and
partnerships to register the names of their individual principals with
the City.

As it currently stands, when residential apartment
buildings are owned by LLCs—limited liability corp—the city only
requires a managing agent to register, providing the corporation’s
address and phone number. As a consequence, the real landlords are
often impossible to track down, let alone reach in case of an

199 Lee Avenue, the site of the gathering, is
the listed landlord address of thousands of tenants in and around
Williamsburg. However, it is simply a mail room, containing thousands
of post office boxes, thus proving the necessity of new legislation
that makes sure landlords are closely kept track of, and held
accountable for their actions.

“Many times, we are unable to
determine who actually owns our buildings,” said Make the Road leader
and Williamsburg resident Alfonso H. Ventura. “Sometimes the landlord
is an LLC. In these occurrences, the agents
that manage the buildings are often difficult, if not impossible, to
reach, and often bare little relation to anyone with decision-making
authority over property….The lack of transparency of ownernship makes
it difficult for tenants and their advocates to resolve problems
outside of litigation.”

The Mulitple Dwelling Registration
Bill will also mitigate some of the adverse effects of the rapid
turnover of buildings—especially those in North Brooklyn. Buildings are
bought and sold so frequently in New York City that they often change
hands without the tenants knowing. During her testimony, Make the Road
member Otilia Rios
explained that, though her building was sold three
years ago, she was only notified after receiving a letter informing her
that she had sent her rent to the wrong address: She should now be
sending it to 199 Lee Avenue.

“My neighbors and I have no
idea who actually owns our building and has control over its daily
operations,” Rios said. “Over the last three years, I have had serious
problems in my apartment, including a roach and rodent infestation. I
have also been unable to get my landlord to provide me with a signed
copy of my lease, which I need in order to receive critical government
benefits; my landlord has repeatedly sent me invoices claiming that I
owe him money which I do not owe. When I call the number provided by my
landlord to try and resolve these problems, no one answers, and my
calls are not returned.”

In addition to holding all
landlords accountable for their actions, the new legislation also
includes a set of consequences that will befall the property owners if
they do not comply, including fines, civil penalties and his or her
right to collect rent revoked.

“Every day, clients come in
and ask me, ‘who owns my building?’ ‘how do I get the repairs I
need’?,” said Make the Road New York Supervising Attorney John Whitlow.
“the only interaction so many tenants have with their landlords is with
a mailbox. This legislation will make it easier for tenants to resolve
problems outside of litigation in housing court.”

Make the
Road Deputy Director Javier Valdes
agreed, adding that “this
legislation is an important step in creating transparency in property
ownership in New York City. We’ll finally find out who is really behind
these LLCs.”