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  Public Employee Press

PEP Feb 2014 Table of Contents
  La Voz

Public Employee Press

On the Job
Part 1 in a series on state rent regulation services employees.

Rent law enforcers

Two units of Local 1359 members play a vital role as guardians of state rent regulation
New unit protects tenants

Tina Miller is a watchdog for tenants.

The Rent Administrative Investigator works at the Tenant Protection Unit of the state Homes & Community Renewal agency.

The TPU was created in 2012 to protect rent-regulated tenants and combat corrupt landlords. The unit has already aroused the ire of property owners, who complain about its aggressive enforcement of rent-regulation laws.

But workers like Miller remain passionate and steadfast about their mission.

"We are here to help the tenants, not the landlords," she said. "We want to make sure landlords don't overcharge."

The investigators conduct audits, investigate harassment of tenants, and examine the renovation reports landlords use to justify rent increases.

Thanks to their work, 20,000 apartments in nearly 2,000 buildings have been added back to the rent-stabilized rolls after audits found that owners lacked adequate documentation for the renovations they used to jack up their rents.

"Landlords are demanding astronomical rents from people who have lived in apartments for 20 to 30 years or asking them to leave," Miller said. "We are trying to keep affordable housing affordable."

In one of its biggest cases, the TPU in October subpoenaed documents from Homewood Gardens and seven other Brooklyn properties with a total of 181 units. The TPU charged that Yeshaya Wasserman, the owner and manager, engaged in abusive behavior and flagrant violations of rent laws. He victimized tenants by failing to provide heat and hot water; pressuring them to vacate their apartments; subjecting them to frivolous housing court proceedings, and doubling and tripling the rent soon after purchasing the property.

In January, after a seven-month TPU investigation, the state announced that Castellan Real Estate Partners would compensate Spanish-speaking tenants it forced out of rent-stabilized apartments by demanding to see proof of citizenship or passports, which is prohibited by state law.

Miller brought more than 22 years of experience as an investigator for the Manhattan District Attorney to the job. Before joining the TPU in July 2012, she worked part-time for a few months at the city Housing Preservation and Development Dept.

She had decided to retire from the DA, but then became restless sitting around the house, she said, and decided to go back to work. Miller's not one who finds it easy to let go of her mission of protecting victims from the bad guys, and she's found her niche at the TPU.

Corrupt landlords beware.

— Gregory N. Heires

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