Bronx residents secure rent stabilization after year-long fight

On July 29, 2021, tenants in Highbridge rally against the building owners’ attempts to destabilize the rent.
Photo Jason Cohen

After a year-long fight, 500 Bronx residents will be able to keep their apartments rent stabilized.

On March 8, hundreds of rent-stabilized tenants residing in 1187 Anderson Ave., 1191 Anderson Ave., 1195 Anderson Ave., 1220 Shakespeare Ave., 1210 Woodycrest Ave., and 1230 Woodycrest Ave., announced a major victory that allows them to keep their apartments rent regulated and preserve affordability. The recent decision was made not by a judge, but in the form of an Order and Determination from New York State’s Division of Homes and Community Renewal (DHCR), the agency which oversees rent regulation, which denied real estate investor Emerald Equity Group’s application to deregulate the apartments and orders the owner to issue rent-stabilized leases to all tenants.

In August, these Highbridge tenants protested about how they are living with vermin, chronic leaks, mold and appliances that don’t work in apartment buildings that the landlord was hoping to deregulate in order to raise the rent.

A hole that was chewed through by a rat in a Highbridge apartment. Photo courtesy Jen Llanos

“The tenant association is happy about this huge victory,” said Julius Bennett, 1230 Woodycrest Ave. tenant leader. “But the happiness is not full. Our landlord has not paid Con Edison for months and now we are suffering because of this dishonesty. The building is at high risk of getting the services shut off, we won’t have electricity in the common areas of the building or cooking gas. Enough is enough, we will continue the fight, but we need support from our elected officials.”

In April 2021, tenants at the five buildings received notice that Emerald Equity Group filed an application with DHCR to remove their apartments from rent stabilization. Tenants organized with the help of New Settlement’s membership-driven tenant organizing project, Community Action for Safe Apartments (CASA), and were represented by Bronx Legal Services’ Tenant Rights Coalition. Although the tenants are celebrating this legal decision, they continue to fight their landlord to make repairs and pay delinquent utility bills.

State Assemblymember Latoya Joyner was also instrumental in this victory through her advocacy with DHCR, which often takes years to make decisions.

“Fighting to protect hundreds of Bronx families in my district against the unscrupulous practices of Emerald Equities, I am very pleased that DHCR is enforcing a state law that is designed to assist tenants keep their homes,” Joyner said. “I look forward to building upon the strong partnership I have with local tenant leaders and being a vocal advocate for tenants throughout our community.”

Bronx Legal Services discovered that the construction in the 1990s was paid for with public funds from the Participation Loan Program, which is governed by Article 15 of the state’s Private Housing Finance Law. That stipulation protects the buildings from being deregulated and DHCR cited the statute in rejecting Emerald Equity’s application.

But the tenants’ organizing efforts and struggle are not over.

Tenants continue to demand their landlord repair hazardous conditions in the buildings, including rodents, roaches, mold, leaks, plumbing problems, inconsistent heat and hot water, and dysfunctional elevators. In December 2021, 1230 Woodycrest and 1220 Shakespeare tenants also received a shut off notice from Con Edison, as the landlord neglected to pay the bills. Tenants held a rally on March 1 to demand the landlord pay their bills.

“The tenants worked hard to organize their neighbors, even during the height of the pandemic, and their hard work paid off,” said Eliza Schafler, an attorney at Bronx Legal Services’ Tenant Rights Coalition. “We applaud DHCR’s decision, which recognizes legal protections available to preserve affordable housing for years to come. Unfortunately, Emerald Equity Group is still refusing to make repairs and pay the utility bills. These tenants have suffered for too long, they deserve better, and we will continue to fight for them.”

-with reporting by Jason Cohen