But that hasn't stopped Shamco from continuing to charge higher rents, according to Williams and Aga Trojniak of the Flatbush Tenant Coalition, an umbrella group based out of the Flatbush Development Corporation.
Rent invoices provided by Trojniak
show that one of Williams' neighbors not only continued to be billed at the higher rate, but was also charged with $775 in "late fees."
These real estate companies - Trojniak
prefers the term "predatory equity" - borrow heavily to accumulate a portfolio of buildings, which creates pressure to increase rents, and fast, by any means possible.
By tacking on improvement increases or other mystery charges, they can escalate rents even more quickly: One Shamco tenant recently provided Trojniak
with a rent history that showed two unexplained 44 percent increases in 2003 and 2006, resulting in a legal rent for a studio apartment of more than $3,400. (Though the tenant's actual rent was only $1,500 thanks to a "preferential rent" discount that landlords often provide when the market hasn't caught up to legal rent limits, this left plenty of headroom for future increases should local market rents ever skyrocket.)
"Either way, it's an upside for them," agrees Trojniak
"Either they push out people, or people stay, force them to do the repairs, and then they [file for] the major capital improvement."
The bigger problem, says Trojniak
, is that there's little incentive for landlords to obey the law when they can make more by violating it.
"The way that DHCR operates, the burden is always on the tenant to make a complaint," explains Trojniak
"So a landlord could do whatever they want - they register, they don't register, they make up rents, they don't make up rents - none of it makes a difference until somebody complains.
And since the only penalty is typically for DHCR to order rents reduced to where they were before the illegal increase, there's little downside to hiking rents and hoping that tenants don't object.
It adds up, says Trojniak
, to "a ridiculous system.
You have an entire bureaucracy there - why not have the staff proactively look at what is being filed?"
While DHCR did not agree to a City Limits interview request, both Trojniak
and Epstein say the problem comes down to money.
But even after the TPU escaped State Senate attempts at defunding it this spring, the 25-person unit remains grossly understaffed to oversee a million units of housing - and even when they are able to reverse rent hikes, says Trojniak
, landlords will often raise rents right back without consequence.
, meanwhile, is concerned that private equity landlords' campaigns may have been successful enough that they're now moving on to new battlegrounds.
"We are now getting many, many more phone calls east of Flatbush Avenue" about active harassment, she