Queens condo owner pays for lock changes that violated rent laws: AG James

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NY Attorney General Letitia James (Photo by Todd Maisel)

A Queens condo owner, its principals and a security firm found to have repeatedly violated the rent stabilization law reached an agreement with New York Attorney General Letitia James in which they’re mandated to take anti-discrimination training and donate $50,000 to nonprofits representing tenants in Asian communities.  

According to James’ office, 132-40 Sanford LLC, owners of the Summit at Infinity 8 Condominium at 132-40 Sanford Ave. in Flushing, Pinnacle Managing Co. and SW Security Services, LLC, were involved in violations with modifying the front door lock of the rent-stabilized building. The violations subsequently led to several tenants, most of whom were Chinese, to forfeit their rent-stabilized apartments. 

Back in 2017, 132-40 Sanford LLC bought the rent-stabilized rental building at 132-30 Sanford Ave. with the intention of turning the property into condos, according to records submitted to James’ office. The building’s owner hired SW Security Services to change the front door lock system into an electronic access system.

But prior to doing this, the sponsor and its principal failed to apply to the state’s Division of Housing and Community Renewal (DHCR) for permission, a violation of New York’s rent stabilization guidance. 

Once the electronic access system was put in place, tenants were required to get new key fobs for the building, but they were incorrectly told that a valid New York State ID or other government-issued ID was necessary to complete the process. This requirement gave the impression that the non-citizen and non-legal permanent Chinese tenants in the building were not entitled access to their own homes since government issued IDs were only available to U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents at the time. 

DHCR guidelines outline that building owners are required to accept any form of ID as long as it has the tenant’s photo on it. Additionally, rent-stabilized owners are not allowed to require IDs issued by a certain state or jurisdiction.  

The AG’s office also found that SW Security Services recorded information from the tenants’ IDs, including the issuing jurisdiction and address, in order to recommend private investigations in 13 tenants — 10 of whom had Chinese surnames. The building’s sponsor and the management company authorized the investigation, resulting in seven tenants — six with Chinese surnames — to forfeit their apartments.  

“Tenants have a right to remain in their homes, and we must do all we can to protect affordable housing,” said James. “These companies failed to deliver the pinnacle of service to tenants, and their actions forced individuals — particularly Chinese tenants — out of their rent-stabilized homes. Let this serve as a warning that we will not tolerate anyone or any entity that violates our housing laws and threatens New Yorkers’ right to a safe and decent home.”

As a result of the violations, 132-40 Sanford LLC and Pinnacle Managing are required to conduct several measures including:

  • donating $50,000 to nonprofits focusing on tenant organizations focusing on the Asian community;
  • conducting anti-discrimination training through the state’s Commission on Human Rights;
  • implementing a form flyer in multiple languages saying that key fob distribution does not require state ID; 
  • agreeing not to record ID data and implementing a system that does not require ID other than one that proves identity; 
  • not hiring security services firms to distribute key fobs; and 
  • agreeing to comply with DHCR guidelines and regulations.

The AGs office required that SW Security Services implement similar measures along with several others: 

  • requiring that investigators have proper anti-discrimination and rent-stabilization trainings; 
  • having policies for interacting with minors; and 
  • not allowing investigators to recording date from tenant IDs.

Flushing lawmakers praised the Attorney General for her office’s investigation. 

“This is certainly a big step in the right direction and it shows the impact of a pro-tenant attorney general,” said Assemblyman Ron Kim. “I want to thank Attorney General Letitia James for continuing to put the needs of our most vulnerable members first, and I look forward to working more closely with her and her office to hold predatory landlords and developers accountable.”

Councilman Peter Koo shared similar sentiments. 

“Targeting rent-stabilized tenants with private investigations is despicable beyond words, and I am very grateful to Attorney General James for making sure these condo owners are held accountable for their blatant harassment,” said Koo. “I sincerely hope others looking to flip our rent-stabilized housing stock by intimidating immigrant tenants take note of this case and know that our community is watching, law enforcement is watching, and there are serious repercussions for playing fast and loose with tenants’ rights.”