By Maria Luisa Tucker
A long-running dispute between one of New York’s biggest landlords and its tenants has reached a boiling point. The much-despised Pinnacle Group, which owns 420 apartment buildings throughout the city, has elicited a rising number of complaints over the past couple years. In May of 2006, the Voice told the story, “Pushed off the Pinnacle,” of longtime Washington Heights residents battling the landlord’s eviction maneuvers so that they could remain in their homes. This morning, disgruntled tenants filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court accusing the company of racketeering.
Several West Harlem residents and the community group Buyers and Renters United to Save Harlem (BRUSH) filed a 42-page complaint asserting that Pinnacle has launched a campaign of harassment and eviction that flaunts rent regulation laws. The suit specifically charges Pinnacle with overcharging rent, harassing tenants, refusing to make repairs and the like. The major complaint, however, is company’s alleged campaign to kick out low- and middle-income renters so their units can be flipped and rented at market rate.
“The name Pinnacle is just simply a code word for mass eviction,” said Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer in a conference call earlier today. In fact, the company, which owns about 21,000 units, sent out a whopping 5,000 eviction notices in the last few years. Stringer said he thought Pinnacle’s strategy was to wear residents down by taking them to housing court repeatedly until they eventually gave up and moved out. “Housing court is the equivalent of going to the emergency room on Saturday night,” he said. “It takes ten hours.”
While Pinnacle has had legal troubles before—specifically with the New York Attorney General and the Manhattan District Attorney—this case is unique in its enormity, said Richard Levy, the plaintiffs’ lawyer. Rather than dealing with one or two specific disputes, the suit alleges that Pinnacle has made a coordinated, large scale attack on residents of its rent-regulated units. Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum told reporters today that this “coordinated harassment” was “something new.”
There’s no word yet from Pinnacle, but, residents say, it’s safe to assume that the company will fight hard for its right to flip both the apartments and their occupants. According to residents, two of Pinnacle’s formerly rent-regulated Washington Heights properties have already been converted to condominiums and ten more are on the way.