Residents continue to believe men are tied to effort to oust rent-stabilized tenants. This article was originally published in the West Side Spirit on Sept. 16, and first reported by the newspaper on Sept. 8.
Citing a lack of new information to go on, police in the 24th Precinct have closed their investigation of a recent incident involving alleged NYPD impersonators in a residential building on the Upper West Side.
“Unfortunately there was no new information for them to go on,” said a police source. “All available leads were exhausted, so to speak.”
On Aug. 20 three unknown men entered 50 W. 93rd St. and told the doorman they were members of the NYPD. The men had badges on chains around their necks and were armed, according to residents. The building’s superintendent told the Spirit that tenants in two rent-stabilized apartments were questioned as to how long they’d lived in the building and wanted to know who they lived with.
Detectives from the 24th Precinct met with residents on Aug. 25 and subsequently opened an investigation based on surveillance footage from the building’s elevator.
Sharon Canns, president of the tenants association at 50 W. 93rd St., said police were initially reluctant to open an investigation, but did so after pressure from Upper West Side Councilmember Helen Rosenthal, who declined to comment.
Canns said the building’s owner, Stellar Management, has aggressively been trying to get rent-stabilized tenants out of the building. In her two years as tenant association president, Canns said she’s brought seven complaints of tenant harassment to the Dept. of Homes and Community Renewal, and has won them all.
“Either Stellar backed off because I brought it to their attention that they were going to lose, or they lost in court,” said Canns. who noted the former Mitchell Lama building is currently home to about 75 rent stabilized tenants and 47 market rate tenants.
Canns said she would not bring a questionable case of tenant harassment to DHCR, and would not cover for any tenant who abused the rent stabilization system.
“Rent stabilization is a gift. It’s a serious gift that most people in the world do not have. So to abuse it would be wrong. I would not take up with anyone who was not playing by the rules,” she said. “These are good people. They have not been loud, they’re good tenants, they pay the rent on time, and yet they have to go through this.”
Canns stopped short of suggesting the alleged police impersonators were sent by Stellar, claiming she doesn’t know what happened, but said she believes the company is capable of such a thing. “I think everybody thinks it, but nobody is saying anything because it’s a police matter…But who else would do that? At the end of the day we’re not idiots.”
The building at 50 W. 93rd St. and another Stellar-owned property at 70 W. 93rd St. were the subject of a Daily News article last year in which tenants claimed they were being harassed to leave their rent stabilized apartments. Tenants alleged they were summoned to housing court with flimsy legal claims that their apartments were not their primary residence or that they added unauthorized family members to their leases without consulting management. Stellar declined to comment for that story.
The company also drew criticism last year for barring rent-stabilized tenants from using luxury amenities at another of their properties on West End Avenue.
Stellar said through a spokesperson that they were in no way involved in the alleged police impersonation incident at 50 West 93rd Street on Aug. 20, and that they do not harass their tenants.
“The management of 50 West 93rd Street has not participated in any wrongdoing or illegal activity regarding the impersonation of law enforcement at the building, nor have they ever engaged in harassment towards tenants in the building,” said Stellar in a statement. “In fact, management worked cooperatively with the local precinct, officials, and residents to investigate the matter. NYPD recently completed their investigation, determined it was a non-criminal matter, and closed the case.”
David Hershey-Webb, an attorney with the tenant-exclusive firm Himmelstein, McConnell, Gribben, Donoghue & Joseph who represents tenants at 70 and 50 West 93rd Street, said Stellar has a history of bringing rent stabilized tenants to court with frivolous lawsuits.
“The main issue for them is that Stellar is very aggressive about bringing cases against tenants, whether they have merit or not,” said Hershey-Webb. “They’re bringing cases they shouldn’t bring.”
Hershey-Webb alleged Stellar has engaged in other harassment tactics at 50 West 93rd Street as well.
“They’ve deprived tenants of basic services, including taking away half of their community room, including the kitchen,” said he said. “They also substantially raised the cost of using the community room. Overall there’s been a decrease in services.”
While Hershey-Webb said he can’t comment on the incident that occurred Aug. 20, he has heard of police impersonators being used to intimidate and harass rent stabilized tenants. However, that was decades ago.
“I don’t know what happened,” said Hershey-Webb. “But the fact of the matter is the housing market is so hot right now landlords appear to be beginning to engage in some of the tactics that were used in the 1980s.” The NYPD said the investigation around the Aug. 20 incident at 50 West 93rd Street can be re-opened if new information comes to light.