(Corrects location of judge to Brooklyn instead of Manhattan in
By Jonathan Stempel
NEW YORK, June 13 A New York state judge has
upheld the legal authority of the Tenant Protection Unit, a key
initiative of Governor Andrew Cuomo to protect rent-regulated
tenants from overcharges, harassment and intimidation by
Cuomo on Tuesday called the decision by State Supreme Court
Justice Richard Velasquez in Brooklyn, which also upheld other
tenant protections adopted in 2014, a victory for the more than
2 million rent-regulated tenants in the state.
The tenant protection unit was created within the state's
Division of Housing and Community Renewal in 2012, pursuant to a
law adopted the prior year that curbed landlords' ability to
raise rents and charge market rates by deregulating units.
Then in 2014, the DHCR adopted additional tenant
protections, such as when landlords fail to provide required
services or try to raise rents after upgrading apartments.
Several building owners and landlord groups including the
Rent Stabilization Association sued in February 2014, saying the
changes deprived them of safeguards without due process and
improperly delegated legislative power to the DHCR.
But in his May 31 decision, which lawyers received on
Friday, Velasquez said the DHCR did not "usurp" legislative
authority, and landlords still enjoyed "a fair and meaningful
opportunity" to defend against claims of willful overcharges.
Sherwin Belkin, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, in an interview
called the 2014 changes "faulty," and said "we are of course
disappointed in the court's decision." He said his clients are
weighing their next legal steps.
New York, and especially New York City, has some of the
nation's most expensive housing, but rent regulation helps keep
hundreds of thousands of people from moving out.
Landlords have long sought higher rents they say are needed
to cover their costs and help them operate profitably. Tenant
advocates often counter that rents are too high.
Last week, Steven Croman, a major Manhattan apartment
building owner dubbed the "Bernie Madoff of landlords" by state
Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, agreed to serve one year in
the Rikers Island jail and pay $5 million after pleading guilty
to fraudulent loan refinancing and tax fraud.
In 2015, state and local officials including New York City
Mayor Bill de Blasio set up a Tenant Harassment Prevention Task
Force to find and punish problem landlords.
Cuomo, a Democrat, is widely considered a potential White
House candidate in the 2020 U.S. presidential election.
The case is Portofino Realty Corp et al v New York State
Division of Housing and Community Renewal et al, New York State
Supreme Court, Kings County, No. 501554/2014.
(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by Tom