Landlord Tries 337% Rent Hike

Daily News Albany Bureau

An upper West Side landlord mistakenly jumped the gun on the threatened expiration of state rent laws, trying to slam one tenant with a staggering 337% hike.

Tenant Jeffrey Brown said he was "shocked" when he got a proposed new lease from John Schreiber, managing agent for his building at 42 W. 88th St. The notice warned that the $915.75-a-month rent for his one-bedroom rent-stabilized unit would soar to $4,000 when the lease expires Aug. 15.

A two-year renewal would cost Brown even more $5,000 the notice said.

"As you know, the present rent regulations are expected to expire on June 15, after which landlords are able to charge market rents for previous regulated apartments," Schreiber wrote. "As a result, we have enclosed your renewal lease to reflect the anticipated market rent."

But one state official said the building manager acted improperly because endangered state laws that limit rent hikes still are in effect. A spokesman for Gov. Pataki said state housing officials are "prepared to investigate" the building manager's action.

Brown, who runs an import business, said he could not possibly pay such an increase for the 375-square-foot garden apartment he's called home for 14 years.

"It's either just stupidity or it's a joke," he said. "If I could afford it, this certainly isn't worth it."

Insisting the hike is justified, Schreiber said, "He's got a very spacious garden apartment, which is highly desirable.

"It's certainly my impression that he's not impoverished. It's my belief that he could handle a rental of at least $2,000 a month."

Brown is among more than 2 million rent-regulated tenants sweating out a bitter Albany battle over state rent laws. Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno (R-Rensselaer) has threatened to let the laws lapse immediately unless Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan) and Pataki agree to phase out the laws over two to four years.

Brown complained about the whopping rent demand as the city Rent Guidelines Board yesterday released figures that for rent-stabilized tenants could mean increases of 1% to 3% for one-year lease renewals.

Brown said he had contacted his lawyer.

State Assemblyman Scott Stringer, an upper West Side Democrat, said the notice was improper.

"People will be evicted if they don't know that the agent or landlord is violating the law by even sending a letter like this," Stringer said.

Joseph Straburg, president of the Rent Stabilization Association, a major landlord organization, said the notice issued by Schreiber "has no impact legally whatsoever."

Calling Schreiber's action "stupid," Strasburg said, "He can say anything he wants, but the law is very clear that he cannot do that today."

Chuck Deister, Pataki's spokesman, said the Division of Housing and Community Renewal is ready to investigate.

"We'd encourage anyone in this situation to contact DHCR," he said.

Original Story Date: 042997
Original Story Section: City Central