State Agency Signal Intentions to Protect Landlords

RIOC Pivots, Dodges, Twists and Turns in Sub Metering Fiasco

Updated 4 weeks ago David Stone
Roosevelt Island View
Roosevelt Island View
© David Stone / Roosevelt Island Daily

 You may not have heard the term, but pivoting is an art politicians work to perfect. Watch any news show or, for a great example, a Sarah Huckabee Sanders press conference. A question is put forward, and a strategic answer pops out that responds authoritatively on something not asked.

Pivoting is a dodge. With politicians, it's typical dishonesty. With a State agency trusted to serve residents' interests, it's also immoral.

Our efforts to encourage RIOC to loosen up and seriously consider violations by Manhattan Park in its ground lease came to an abrupt end when RIOC President/CEO Susan Rosenthal used tactics that would make a tenured politician proud, deliberately misrepresenting our concerns in a way that made it easier to reject them, ignoring some and pivoting off others to simply avoid responsibility.

Motives are hard to ascertain, and we won't try. But the primary beneficiary of Rosenthal's actions is Grenadier/Manhattan Park. You are welcome to draw your own conclusions based on the following.

Details: Step by Step

Rosenthal's email to me on October 22nd started badly: "David," she wrote, "last year we took your complaint that Manhattan Park (“MP”) was inaccurately measuring and therefore, illegally profiting from electric submetering very seriously."

What's wrong here? Well, for starters, that was not our complaint. Our core complaint was - and is - that Grenadier/Manhattan Park never "established" an approved grievance procedure as they were required to do before starting sub metering, a process in which building owners are allowed to act as a public utility. Details are crystal clear in their lease with RIOC.

That failure denied two generations of renters rights to contest heating bills with the full protections guaranteed in a procedure approved by the Public Service Commission in 1989.

With tenants rights denied and no effort made by RIOC to verify compliance, renters had no way of proving anything because their actions (or inactions) jointly allowed Grenadier/Manhattan Park to withhold critical information.

Renters' hands were tied when mysteriously large electric bills showed up on their monthly rent bills and when peculiar patterns in billings ignited suspicions that something was amiss.

To be fair, we asked Property Manager Michael Kim to produce any evidence that the approved grievance procedure had ever been used by any tenant or even that any tenant even knew about it. He could not.

Alternatively, we asked Kim to provide a list of tenants who'd accessed the procedure. He hid behind privacy concerns although redacting names would have been easy and given him a clean shot at proving our suspicions wrong.

A similar request to provide the name of a single third-party arbiter in settling any grievance was ignored.

Rosenthal and RIOC lawyer Arthur Eliav were fully in the loop on all of this. They knew exactly what happened.

But you won't see any explanation in their correspondence as they pivot away like a Trump defender cornered on a Sunday morning talk show.

First Direct Lie

According to Rosenthal, "RIOC immediately began a review of its lease with MP and requested proof of compliance from MP."

That's not true.

At our first meeting, Rosenthal advised me to request proof of compliance from Grenadier/Manhattan Park myself and see what answers came back, after which we could meet and discuss next steps. She gave me three specific questions to ask.

At the meeting, Rosenthal and Eliav were surprised to hear complaints about sub metering at Manhattan Park. RIOC had nothing like it in their files, they said.

That was also untrue.

Manhattan Park's RIRA Common Counselor Mark Lyon, before relocating out of state, worked extensively with RIOC to collect historical documents concerning sub metering. He even appealed directly to the Board for support (with predictable results.)

Lyon got documents using Freedom of Information requests submitted to RIOC. Responses included on the copy list - Guess who? Arthur Eliav. Only two and half years had passed.

Eliav also claimed to have no record of a grievance procedure in RIOC's files - until we showed it to him.

Established Grievance Procedure Required Since 1989

The barrier Rosenthal threw together to give Grenadier/Manhattan Park cover was painfully lame.

"MP provided RIOC (and you) with a copy of the current PSC-approved grievance procedure, with a sworn affidavit stating that the said document was distributed to all MP tenants," she wrote.

There's a mystery here.

Rosenthal is an attorney and whip smart. For her to come up with anything as feeble as that defies easy explanation. It was dumber than dumb, and she is not.

Here's what actually happened.

After twenty-five years of being derelict, denying tenants access to or even knowledge of the grievance procedure they agreed to, Grenadier/Manhattan Park sent Property Manager Brian Weisberg chugging through all buildings dropping Home Energy Fair Practices Act (HEFPA) notices in front of every door in 2013.

His sworn affidavit that he did so was notarized by none other than Matthew Katz.

There is, however, no verification that tenants got the notices and, since Weisberg hasn't sailed through dropping off photocopies since, no reasonable expectation that tenants moving in thereafter got any notice at all.

Tossing HEFPA notices into doorways once in 28 years (and counting), RIOC wants us to believe, meets the requirement of having an established grievance procedure approved by either the Public Service Commission or RIOC, a quarter of a century earlier.

Rosenthal can't believe this is true, no matter what she wrote.

Here's what's worse. There's no evidence whatsoever that the PSC approved the hastily contrived and distributed notice, and according to legal experts, it doesn't meet PSC's minimum requirements, anyway.

It wasn't approved by PSC, and worse than that, RIOC conceded that they were never informed that the grievance procedure they approved (and Grenadier/Manhattan Park never established) had been replaced. 

No problem. But it gets even worse.

As RIOC is well aware, Grenadier/Manhattan Park doesn't even live up to the shabby "complaint procedure" described in their own HEFPA document.

RIOC's inaction on behalf of tenants ought to be of concern to everyone, not just Manhattan Park residents. You may be next, and you can't count on RIOC to lift a finger to help. Well, maybe that finger.

Sitting in the Owners' Box with Grenadier/Manhattan Park

What Rosenthal wrote next, I'll admit, shocked me. It was a virtual confession of guilt.

"...we met with MP’s Property Manager and Director of Property Management to discuss this matter. We also corresponded with MP’s principals and legal counsel, and met with you on two separate occasions to discuss your claims. We had offered to meet with you yet again, but the offer was declined."

Let's take this apart a little.

In order to blow smoke at my little group of protestors, RIOC talked "with MP's principals and legal counsel..." 

Really?

What makes this so interesting is that, despite numerous requests, we've never been able to get Kim or Weisberg to cough up the identities of the "principals." But easy access was gained for RIOC. And their legal counsel too.

Wow!

Note: Jean Lerman was RIOC's President when Grenadier/Manhattan Park finalized their ground lease on Roosevelt Island. Now listed as Senior Vice President at Grenadier is "Jean Lerman." Maybe it's just a coincidence.

Because we were never made aware of these conversations, leaving us unable to counter any arguments made behind closed doors, we've made a Freedom of Information request to RIOC for who, what, when and where details and are awaiting a report.

We also asked for other information about Eliav's and Rosenthal's previously not reported activities. This is of special interest to our group because, after the conversations and meetings took place, RIOC's positions and attitude toward us change dramatically and without explanation. Eliav was left to fly solo into the flak that followed, but it's unlikely he acted independently.

And, yes, Rosenthal and Eliav did meet with me twice. Both times, Rosenthal was helpful with advice and supportive about getting things right. As we left it after the second meeting, our emphasis was on the grievance procedure, not discovered in RIOC's files, and in Rosenthal's words, "if they ever put it in play," they being Grenadier/Manhattan Park.

She knew what the deal was, but something changed after Grenadier/Manhattan Park brought in the troops, the property managers, the principals and the lawyer. We don't know what or why. But we're trying to find out.

By the way, Rosenthal's statement that "We had offered to meet with you yet again, but the offer was declined." is a lie. 

In fact, a year later when passions on our side had cooled a little and we'd worked with RIOC on articles and developed a sounder relationship, I suggested opening up the conversation again, still baffled at how things turned so badly.

Rosenthal refused, writing that our concerns were "conspiracy theories."

To be continued as new information becomes available and we reopen our search for an attorney willing to take on Grenadier/Manhattan Park and the State of New York.

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