Last Thursday, the tenants rallied with the community advocacy group Woodside on the Move in front of the office of their landlord, Cosmopolitan Houses. They operate 38 buildings throughout Sunnyside and Woodside.
According to Ivan Contreras, an organizer with Woodside on the Move, the landlord recently completed a roof and facade improvement project at the rent-stabilized buildings.
They plan to pass the cost onto tenants through a program called called Major Capital Improvements (MCI), a move that must be approved by the state Department of Housing and Community Renewal (DHCR).
“We’re tired of the MCIs, we cannot afford to pay the increments,” he said. “When they have to do a repair or improvement, we have to pay for it for life, forever. That’s not right.”
Contreras said the problem is the law, which he said allows landlords to do these projects and “eliminate affordable housing” when rents become too much for tenants.
The organizer said the rent hike would be about $38 per room, including bedrooms, living room and kitchen. For a three-bedroom apartment, the rent could go up nearly $200, he said.
“They’re using the MCIs as a technique to increase the rent,” Contreras said. “We are not going to tolerate that.”
Emma Gaitan, who has lived in her building for more than three decades, said the landlord already received one MCI project to install cameras five months ago. Though her rent went up slightly, she said tenants accepted that project because it benefited both the landlord and the tenants.
But when they got another MCI project for the roof and facade just two months later, Gaitan was worried.
“We hear they’re going to install new windows in the future, that’s another MCI,” she said. “It’s one after another. They keep on coming and people get scared.
“I am a retired person, and there are many retired people living here,” she added. “I don’t think it’s fair that they have an MCI every three months. Nobody gets an increase in salary every three months.”
Like many of the tenants at the rally, Gaitan said she understands the building is old and needs repair, but believes the landlord should pay for it.
“It’s their property,” she said. “We are just tenants, renting.”
A. Keeles, a 43-year-resident, was particularly upset that tenants would have to pay for the improvements forever.
“It goes into our rent permanently, we have to renew our leases,” she said. “Our lease will be renewed on the new increase, not what we agreed to when we signed our lease previously.”
She was also upset that Cosmopolitan decided to do the MCI projects consecutively. Keeles said seniors, single parents and single-income households will all be affected by the coming rent hike.
“I think the landlord could’ve approached us in a fairer way to get the money reimbursed for improvements without doing the MCI,” she said.
The tenants received support among elected officials. Assemblywoman Cathy Nolan said she wanted to meet with the tenants and Woodside on the Move to “strategize how we approach this.”
“This is a beautiful complex, people live here with their families,” Nolan said. “We want to keep it that way for everyone here. You have my efforts and my pledge to help do that.
“MCI cannot be abused, we cannot have that,” she added. “We do not want to let you down.”