Allegations of Abuse Detailed in Complaint

Manhattan Park/RIOC Sub Metering Protest Goes Straight To PSC

Updated 4 weeks ago
30 River Road in Manhattan Park in 2016
30 River Road in Manhattan Park in 2016
© Roosevelt Island Daily file photo
After conclusive evidence was found that RIOC President Susan Rosenthal mislead Senator José Serrano Jr. about her actions and RIOC's failure to protect tenants from alleged sub metering abuse at Manhattan Park, a frustrated group has taken their concerns directly to the Public Service Commission. The action was pursued as it also became clear that State officials elected to help us are curiously reluctant to deal with the agency controlled by Governor Cuomo. Following is the full text of the tenants' letter to PSC.  

To the Public Service Commission, our appeal for fair and equal protection from sub metering abuse.

In 1987, when Manhattan Park was being built on Roosevelt Island, its developer, Starrett Reality, asked for PSC authorization to sub meter 804 apartments in the complex. After negotiations between Starrett, PSC and the Roosevelt Island Operating Corporation, which owns the land and leases it for development, PSC approved the application based on specific conditions being met, each of which were incorporated in the ground lease between RIOC and Starrett.

Although we believe that Manhattan Park has violated each condition multiple times, the core requirement enabling violations is that "before sub metering" Manhattan Park agreed to establish a grievance procedure, that is, until and approved grievance procedure was established for tenants, sub metering was not permitted. The grievance procedure specific steps mandated by PSC are:

  1. Any tenant objecting to a sub metered electric bill must receive a written response from Manhattan Park explaining how the bill was arrived at.
  2. If the tenant is not satisfied, she can appeal to Manhattan Park’s Property Manager.
  3. Should the issue not be resolved at this point, it goes to binding third party arbitration.

PSC’s Commissioner was so adamant about Step 3, the key element that delayed approval, that potential arbitrators were actually recommended.

Taking advantage of cooperation from RIOC and PSC, however intentional or unintentional, Manhattan Park violated the terms of the agreement from Day One, thus nullifying PSC authorization to sub meter.

First, Manhattan Park never established the grievance procedure, i. e., in the words of RIOC President Susan Rosenthal, they never “put it in play.” This means, based on contract language with RIOC and agreement with PSC, sub metering at Manhattan Park has never been legal.

Tenants were never notified at any time that a PSC-approved grievance procedure, intended to protect them from sub metering abuse, was even in existence, not by Manhattan Park, RIOC or PSC.

Emboldened by the State’s turning a blind eye to enforcement, Manhattan Park routinely dismissed tenant complaints about electric charges over the years, often without anything in writing. Many current and former tenants complain of not getting a response at all. Dozens, maybe hundreds, were denied rights PSC sought to guarantee.

Potential over billing and other violations were essentially masked by denying access to a grievance procedure in which third party arbitration, as intended by PSC, may have rooted them out and forced Manhattan Park to compensate tenants and correct behaviors. Individual complaints were brought to PSC, but because tenants did not know a grievance procedure existed, Manhattan Park’s failure to meet terms of its sub metering approval was not raised.

In attempting to resolve the issue and in cooperation with RIOC, in June, 2016, we asked Manhattan Park to offer any proof that the grievance procedure had ever been established, that is, shared with anyone besides its own management, RIOC and PSC. They could not.

We then asked Manhattan Park to produce records showing that the grievance procedure had ever been put into action, even once. They refused, claiming confidentiality, although redaction could easily have taken care of that. Next, as an alternative, we asked Manhattan Park to identity any individual or group that acted as a third party arbitrator in a tenant dispute. They could not.

Please keep in mind that, had Manhattan Park met either condition, they’d have cleared themselves of the most serious accusations of sub metering abuse. That they were unable should mean something to anyone for whom common sense and respect for laws matters.

Several years ago, when an attorney pursuing this case with PSC challenged Manhattan Park, a property manager, Brian Weisberg, suddenly photocopied and stapled hundreds of HEFPA notices and dropped them in front of doors in the complex. No effort was made to verify that tenants, many of whom are not native English speakers, received or understood the significance of the flyers. In spite of the fact that the flyers contained only a two part “Complaint Procedure,” with no arbitration requirement as demanded by PSC, Manhattan Park now claims that they replaced the never implemented grievance procedure. RIOC confirmed that they were not notified of such a switch contemporaneously, and there is no evidence that it was approved by anyone. It was simply a unilateral play by Manhattan Park and revealing in itself as it suggested a desperate attempt to appear to be in compliance.

The attorney who attempted to get PSC to act never received any resolution and has since moved out of state. PSC seems to have buried his complaint.

HEFPA notices thrown on the floor in front of doorways in a hurry by no means satisfies 25 years of violations. Similar flyers have not been distributed since, although with transient housing taking over much of Manhattan Park, hundreds of new tenants have moved in since. Because of RIOC’s and PSC’s negligence in overseeing Manhattan Park’s sub metering compliance, the misconduct continues today.

Our efforts so far…

We first tried working with RIOC, asking President Rosenthal to identify who at RIOC was responsible for enforcing terms of the ground lease. We had two meetings with her and associate general counsel Arthur Eliav, which were helpful. (Note: RIOC initially claimed, however, to know nothing about a grievance procedure and to never have heard any complaints about Manhattan Park in the past, both of which were false.)

Subsequent to our second meeting and after Manhattan Park failed to show that they ever established the grievance procedure required by PSC before sub metering, Manhattan Park’s property managers initiated a private meeting with Rosenthal and Eliav. In a FOIL request, we also found that Rosenthal had discussions with Manhattan Park's “counsel" and “principals,” who RIOC refuses to identify, even in the FOIL response. Following these meetings, Rosenthal and Eliav immediately switched course without explanation. The HEFPA notice distributed circa 2014, they preposterously claimed, satisfied the requirements for 1989(!) stipulated by PSC. Our complaints were now, according to Rosenthal, “conspiracy theories."

We subsequently discovered, also in the FOIL, that Rosenthal mislead a representative from Senator José Serrano Jr.’s office, Eric Rivera, when he was attempting to assist our group and help us arrange free legal counsel.

RIOC is essentially a rogue State agency, answerable to no one but others similarly dependent on political patronage. They are not going to assist tenants in a contest with any politically connected landlord, even when the landlord is in open violation of agreements set up to protect tenants.

We have been denied our rights as tenants to protection from sub metering abuse, some of us from as far back as 1991. We were never informed of any grievance procedure until one was unearthed in a FOIL request in 2014. Success at keeping us in the dark for all this time does not justify letting Manhattan Park get away with refusing to honor the terms PSC demanded in 1989.

Manhattan Park should be ordered to discontinue sub metering electricity immediately as they have never met PSC’s qualifying requirements. Permission to resume should not be given until Manhattan Park reaches agreement with tenants over compensation for years of abuse and pays any penalties PSC deems appropriate. We hope, but don’t expect RIOC to assume responsibility for enforcing terms of its own ground lease with Manhattan Park and, therefore, ask that a third party arbitrator be assigned, at Manhattan Park’s expense, to oversee future compliance.

Even if unintended, both RIOC and PSC have supported Manhattan Park’s misconduct. Neither State agency took steps to force compliance or even to inform tenants. RIOC cannot be counted on to take any effective action or even, as we’ve seen from FOIL requests, to be honest in their dealing with us or elected officials. Short of lawsuit against all three, PSC seems the only potential ally we have in getting justice for 25 years of abuse.

We are writing in hope of your getting your full assistance in seeing that PSC’s original requirements are honored, retroactively and in the future.

Thank you.

Note: Current and former Manhattan Park residents involved in this ongoing action have chosen to remain anonymous for now, fearing retaliation, especially in the form of rent increases, from the landlord.

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