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Cuomo: Landlord Is Harassing Low-Income Tenants To Get Them To Leave

Firm Tries To Force Families To Accept Low Buyout Offers, Governor Says
Gov. Andrew Cuomo (file / credit: Governor's Office)

Gov. Andrew Cuomo (file / credit: Governor’s Office)

ALBANY, N.Y. (CBSNewYork/AP) — Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Tuesday served a major subpoena on a New York City landlord, accusing the firm of kicking immigrant tenants out just so it could raise the rents.

Cuomo announced Tuesday that the subpoena had been issued on Castellan Real Estate Partners/Liberty Place Property Management, which owns about 1,700 rent-regulated units in 35 buildings. The buildings are located mostly in Harlem, Washington Heights and the South Bronx.

A New York City landlord is trying to kick thousands of struggling immigrants out of their apartments so they can push up the rent for new tenants, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Tuesday.

Cuomo said the firm has been harassing mostly Spanish-speaking families barely eking out a living.

In a statement, Cuomo said the landlord is intimidating tenants in rent-regulated apartments by burdening them with false fees, asking about their immigration status and pressuring them to accept inadequate buyouts to leave.

“Landlords who harass tenants and engage in prejudiced bullying will not get away with it in this state, period,” Cuomo said in a statement. “We created the Tenant Protection Unit for exactly this purpose: to stand up for renters who are being taken advantage of by bad landlords. This investigation sends a clear message to any owner who tries to profit by preying on those who do not speak English or push tenants out of their homes with threats.”

The state Tenant Protection Unit served the subpoena Monday.

“The governor is standing up for renters and sending a clear message to owners who attempt to gain from turning over apartments in a heavy-handed and illegal way,” said Richard White, deputy commissioner of the unit.

Rick Serrapica, chief operating officer of Liberty Place Property Management — owned by Castellan — said the company received the subpoena papers, which he called “very unexpected. It was a surprise to us.”

“We’ve never had a complaint,” he told The Associated Press. “The allegations are completely unfounded; we’ve never harassed tenants and never intend to.”

But when Salome Leon went to pay rent recently for the apartment she shares with her husband, two sons ages 5 and 9, plus a sister and her child, “they told us we could no longer stay,” she said in a telephone interview. “They said our salary was too low.”

The 33-year-old Mexican immigrant, who has lived in the family’s East Harlem apartment for a decade, said she and her husband bring home about $1,200 a month. She splits the $1,300 rent for the four-bedroom apartment with her sister.

Leon, who works in a barber shop, said she was forced to sign a document promising to move out.

Then the family learned about an activist group called Movement for Justice in El Barrio, which has helped tenants stage protests.

Juan Haro, an organizer with the social justice group, said Leon’s family is staying put. He said the agreement Leon signed is “null and void.”

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