File – Aaron Carr, founder of Housing Rights Initiative, speaks at news conference in 2018. (Seth Wenig/AP)
The mammoth private equity firm that bought a rent-stabilized Queens housing complex last year has agreed to pay $1.1 million in refunds to tenants after it found they were entitled to rent reductions, the Housing Rights Initiative revealed Friday.
The Blackstone Group, which acquired the 1,327-unit Parker Towers in Forest Hills last November, conceded that 110 units there should have been getting reductions, according to the non-profit housing watchdog, which is embroiled in a lawsuit with the Manhattan-based, multinational company.
Tenants—represented by the Newman Ferrara law firm—filed a class-action lawsuit over rent stabilization practices against the complex’s former owner, the Jack Parker Corporation, alleging the company illegally deregulated apartments despite getting tax breaks under the J-51 exemption and abatement program, which requires owners maintain rent-stabilization.
“We acquired Parker Towers in November and have been working diligently to resolve the litigation that ties to actions taken by the prior owner," a spokeswoman for the Blackstone Group said in a statement. "We are pleased that we were able to voluntarily address this issue quickly and fairly for our residents. We will continue to review the prior owners’ lease files with the expectation of resolving any remaining issues expeditiously. We remain committed to providing high quality, professional service to the residents of Parker Towers, and to being good stewards to the surrounding community.”
“The goal here is not to get back some of what was stolen, but to get back all of what was stolen,” said Aaron Carr, executive director of the non-profit HRI, which did the research leading to the lawsuit. “Stay tuned.”
Carr said HRI for years has been calling on Gov. Cuomo to investigate landlords who have run afoul of exemptions like the J-51 program, but the pleas have been ignored. “Cuomo is a wholly-owned subsidiary of the real estate sector,” he said.
“Under the governor, we’ve passed among the strongest rent protection laws in the nation, which we’re going to further build on this year,” he said. “If we responded to every trashy nonsensical attack from a self-appointed advocate, there would literally be no time left in the day.”