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Suburban groups fighting co-op tenant protections.

Last week, the town of Greenburgh approved exempting from the Emergency Protection Act certain owner-occupied co-op and condominium units. Units that have current tenants can renegotiate or be evicted at the end of their lease term.

"It's a small improvement - only 15 communities to go," said P. Gilbert Mercurio, executive vice president of the Westchester Board of Realtors.

A movement is afoot in New York's Rockland, Westchester and Nassau Counties to relieve owners from tenant protection regulations that say, if the owner of a co-op apartment rents the unit out, he loses the right to it until the tenant decides to move.

In Westchester County, Mount Vernon, Eastchester and now Greenburgh have removed these units from the statute.

Meanwhile, in Albany, the Senate has already passed one bill exempting these counties and allowing owners to evict tenants at the end of their lease term. The Assembly is expected to modify two bills into one that would grandfather current tenants. That measure, its sponsors hope, could be introduced in the Senate, as well, as it is considered more likely to pass muster through the Assembly and the Governor.

Gilbert said: "We know it's possible to make a reasoned argument to communities to change these regulations."

There are, however, 15 other communities that have similar regulations in Westchester and there are many more in Rockland and Nassau counties, he said, so it is very difficult to approach this one community at a time.

The group is backing the bills in the state legislature to accomplish this across the board, Mercurio said. "We will support any bill that accomplishes the exemption cleanly," he said. "But you can't put all your eggs in one basket." The Realtors, he said, will continue to generate support throughout the towns and villages.

Mercurio said there are about 2,500 co-ops and condominiums in Westchester that are available for rent or for sale. About 1,300 are co-ops and 1,200 are condos. At least three-fourths of those, he guessed, would come under the EPTA and could not be rented out without risk to the owner.

A bill sponsored by Senator Kemp Hannon has passed the Senate while there are a couple of different bills in the Assembly. Assembly Member Henry Barnett, a Republican from Yorktown Heights in Westchester, introduced one measure and more recently Assembly Member Sam Colman, a Rockland Democrat, introduced a bill that contains a grandfather clause allowing current tenants to remain.

Rick Goss, legislative aide to Colman, said, "There is no change that the Assembly would put everyone at risk." Although it is not a perfect solution, he said, "It's better to have a solution that would eventually phase it out."

Bill Melchionne, a spokesperson for Senator Kemp Hannon, said, "Each year its another excuse. I don't even know if we amend and grandfather the tenants if they will pass it."

Melchionne explained the unit is worth nothing to sell with tenant in there. "It's value is zero," he said. "A number of those people who would be grandfathered got their apartments because they knew the unit was protected and the owner did not. The individual thought he was doing the right thing by offering a unit for a lease term and then found out the guy was the tenant for life."

Melchionne said the Senate has passed this bill two years in a row and the people who are contacting them are holding out hope. "The grandfather doesn't help a good number of people who rented in good faith who didn't know the law was against them," he added.

The statewide enabling legislation has been in place since 1974 and the original act was not intended to include co-ops and condominiums. Mercurio said during the spate of conversion activity, some cases were decided by courts that concluded the co-ops and condos should be included because they were in transition. "Our position is that these units are regulated by accident and [was not] intended by the legislature." he said. In New York City, an empty unit becomes decontrolled, but even there owners report the courts are making it harder to evict tenants.

After the co-op is converted a new tenant continues to be regulated, unlike in New York City, said Dan Margulies, executive director of the Community Housing Improvement Program.

"This resulted in a court interpretation of a very slight difference in language of the co-op conversion laws that applied outside New York City," he said.

In Westchester, he said, it was understood that these apartments had been rented as free market apartments and had to be brought back under rent regulations. A number of people get trapped into this unknowingly, he said. In some cases as executor, seeking to preserve the value of an estate, rented out the unit for income and then found he had wiped out the value of the estate by establishing a permanent tenant in a property that could have been sold. Many housing advocates have recognized that the only ways to make these units available as rentals are to deregulate.

"Our interest is with real live people," Mercurio explained. "There are families who occupy these co-ops and condos and are suffering from these regulations. They are having difficulties selling these but can't even rent them without suffering a reduced rent and taking the risk that the tenant will renew in perpetuity."

As a result, many owners are moving and leaving the units vacant, resulting in more of a financial hardship while these apartments are removed from the scarce rental market altogether.

"From a major shareholder's point of view, what choices do I have?," asked Gerald Pindus president TedPin Realty and U.S. Energy Controls. "I'll take anything I can get. Yonkers is killing me."
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Copyright 1992, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:realty interests of suburban of New York, New York
Publication:Real Estate Weekly
Date:Jun 3, 1992
Previous Article:Contracting drops again in April.
Next Article:Index shows home value loss not so great.

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