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Tenants, pols pile on Two Trees building that overcharged rent-stabilized residents

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It is a full Court Street press!

Brooklyn developer Two Trees is battling current and former tenants in court in the wake of an expose that revealed it overcharged rent-stabilized residents in a building at Court Street and Atlantic Avenue for years while government regulators turned a blind eye — and now local pols are demanding the state put the entire property under the microscope and ensure anyone who has been screwed-over receives a hefty check.

“It is deeply distressing that the task of identifying rental overcharges, and obtaining restitutions when overcharges are identified, falls to the tenants themselves,” Councilman Steve Levin (D–Boerum Hill) and Assemblywoman Jo Ann Simon (D–Brooklyn Heights) wrote in a letter demanding the state investigate the rent history of all units in the Downtown building and pay back any affected tenants triple the damages.

The state’s Department of Homes and Community Renewal, however, claims policing rent-stabilized buildings is not its responsibility, and the pols should go after the city’s Housing Department instead — which in turn responded that it is up to the state to regulate.

In the meantime, it is up to the tenants to fight for the money they believe they are owed in court.

A December report from investigative news outlet Pro Publica revealed the developer had overcharged rent-stabilized tenants for years after the building opened in 2005, but government regulators did nothing, despite giving the company more than $10 million in tax cuts for the capped-price units through the 421-a program.

Two Trees claims it rectified the problem in 2013, lowering its rents and paying tenants back plus interest, but some residents claim they are still being charged too much.

One current tenant is battling eviction proceedings after he refused to pay nearly $7,000 a month for a one-bedroom apartment that he moved into when it was priced at $3,900 six years ago, with the expectation that the rent would stay within his means.

“No middle-class person could afford a rent like this,” said Jeff Goodman, who has been involved in three separate legal fights with the developer. “We’re middle-class people, that’s why we’re in a rent-stabilized apartment.”

Two Trees claims the rent hike was within allowable rent stabilization increases, but Goodman claims it is basing its calculations off fraudulent documents.

A housing court judge ordered Goodman to cough up $26,000 in back rent, and a rep for Two Trees says it is about time, claiming he and his partner are putting on a show to get media and pols in his corner.

“These are luxury tenants who have broken the terms of their lease again and again, who owe us hundreds of thousands of dollars in rent, and who are trying to manipulate the press and local elected officials to try to make us settle,” said public relations rep Jeremy Soffin. But Goodman is now contesting the ruling in the state Supreme Court, and Levin and Simon are taking his side, asking the court to put a hold on eviction proceedings until an investigation is complete.

“There shouldn’t be eviction proceedings until we get a clearer picture of what’s going on,” said Levin.

Reach reporter Lauren Gill at lgill@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260–2511. Follow her on Twitter @laurenk_gill
Updated 10:17 pm, July 9, 2018
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Reasonable discourse

Me That's Who from Flatbush says:
"We're middle-class people". Interesting, I don't know many middle-class folks who can afford to pay $3,900/month for a one bedroom apartment. I think this gentleman meant to say upper-middle class, or upper class. Give this guy a vocabulary lesson along with his refund.
April 12, 2016, 6:58 pm
Amalia from Boerum Hill says:
I never heard of the Department of Homes and Community Renewal. As politicians sell out entire neighborhoods and public institutions to luxury tower builders, they cover their bums with the Department of Homes and Community Renewal. How "distressed" is Councilman Steve Levin? He gave the greenlight to the sell-off of the Brooklyn Heights library at a loss to a developer friend of Bill de Blasio. How did Levin justify it? With a couple of poor door off-site buildings.

Karl Marx himself would be proud of thinking up an agency called the Department of Homes. Better red, right?
April 12, 2016, 10:21 pm
DUMBO from DUMBO says:
Two Trees should be removed from being on the board of the Dumbo Improvement District, and NYC Small Business say nothing about the oversight of their board members and the pay to play games that go along.
April 12, 2016, 11:34 pm
Wynn Murrell from Manhattan friend says:
The thing to remember is the ENTIRE building is rent-stabilized and not one apartment in Two Trees Court Street is a "market-value" apartment--- the argument made by Two Trees to justify their hi-jacking of rents! The only thing that large corporations don't understand is you can't fool all the people all the time.
April 12, 2016, 11:47 pm
marsha rimler from brooklyn heights says:
I am certainly no fan of Two Trees and there action needs to be stopped and they need to pay a penalty
Levin and Simon also need the same treatment.
Levin for his pushing the first sale of a libray in nyc history. He forgot that he is employed by the people not the real estate industry. Simon for having a fund raiser sponsored the the library lobbyist . She needs to return any funds she got at Ms. Yosswein's event.
Levin and Simon are elected by the people not the real estate industry and/or big money. They need to remember that
April 13, 2016, 4:03 am
Jed Dufus from Downtown Brooklyn says:
Is Jeremy Soffin, Two Trees PR rep. in this story, a staff member of Berlin/Rosen, the PR firm, unregistered lobbyist group, employed by DeBlasio and Two Trees, and recently subpoenaed by the Feds? Does he really think that he speaks with any credibility when he claims that a tenant in a rent stabilized apartment owes Two Trees hundreds of thousands of dollars??!! Based on recent news stories it sounds as if Two Trees owes taxpayers millions of dollars in tax exemptions in 421-a tax benefits they never qualified for. Yet another example of our Mayor's improvished management skills and/or his pay to play activities allowing city agencies HPD, HDC, and Dept of Finance to give Two Trees a pass when it comes to compliance with the law. This is the man who cares about tenants? Why would taxpayers allow him to spend a penny on any kind of housing when he seems to be in the pocket of Two Trees and seems indifferent to how they manage taxpayer subsidized rent stabilized buildings and their exploitation of tenants. And now he is pushing Two Trees trolley project!!! Has he no shame!!
April 30, 2016, 2:02 pm

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