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PRESS MENTION: Inquilinos demandan a casero: por estar ocho meses sin gas y por acoso

Screenshot of news coverage from NY1 Noticias.

Screenshot of news coverage via NY1 Noticias.

September 15, 2023
By NY1 Noticias

Antonio Flores dice que por años ha padecido acoso de parte del casero donde vive.

Y al igual que él, otras 5 familias mexicanas que viven en el edificio ubicado en el 28-18 de la Avenida 38th, en Long Island City, Queens, han demandado ante la corte de vivienda al propietario del inmueble por haberlos dejado sin gas durante 8 meses.

Y también aseguran, porque los vigilan cada paso que dan.

“El problema es que tenemos mucho acoso por un hombre que contrató el dueño, nos acosaba mucho, nos investigaba, a qué hora salíamos de la casa, sacaba fotos”, dijo Antonio Flores, inquilino.

Poco antes de la audiencia ante el juez, todos ellos acompañados de activistas protestaron frente a la corte, en espera que sus voces y reclamos sea escuchados y fallen a su favor.

Martín Hernández, quien también es inquilino, ya le demandó hace 10 anos por agresión física y ganó. Sin embargo, el acoso no ha parado, asegura.

“Eso fue a parar hasta la corte obviamente y se le pusieron cargos al super, y desafortunadamente al dueño no se le pudieron poner cargos por el poder que tiene y hasta la fecha sigue acosándome, esto no termina”, dijo Hernández.

Antonia Martínez no se queda atrás, pues dice que también ha sido blanco de injurias y hasta de amenazas.

“El dueño y sus trabajadores nos han hecho discriminación, nos amenazan con que si no tenemos los documentos legales nos van a intimidar diciendo que inmigración anda cogiendo a la gente sin documentos”, dijo Antonia.“El dueño y sus trabajadores nos han hecho discriminación, nos amenazan con que si no tenemos los documentos legales nos van a intimidar diciendo que inmigración anda cogiendo a la gente sin documentos”, dijo Antonia.

Viven constantemente con miedo, dicen los inquilinos.

“Nuestros hijos también tienen miedo de sus trabajadores y del dueño porque no se sienten libre de vivir en el departamento, y es muy estresante”, agregó Antonia.

Como estresante es la permanente vigilancia…

“Instaló cámaras, de hecho nos mandó fotos que cuando salimos, cuando botamos basura, a la hora que llegamos del trabajo”, dijo Hernández.

La demanda también exige la reparación por los meses sin gas en sus apartamentos.

“Los inquilinos están pidiendo una reducción de renta de la cuenta que se debe ahora, por la huelga por no tener gras por 8 meses, y también una reducción en la renta del futuro para poder quedarse en su hogar”, dijo Amy Collado, de Servicios Católicos de Migración.

Enviamos un correo al propietario, pero hasta el cierre de este reportaje no obtuvimos respuesta.

See the original news coverage via NY1 Noticias (en español): Inquilinos demandan a casero: por estar ocho meses sin gas y por acoso

PRESS MENTION: Zara Realty ordered to stop collecting excess fees from renters

Zara Realty ordered to stop collecting excess fees from renters

August 18, 2023

NEW YORK — We have an update on a Queens landlord accused of tenant abuse.

It’s a story we first told you about on July 31.

Now, Zara Realty has been ordered to stop collecting excess fees from renters.

A judge granted the motion by the state attorney general.

Tenants in rent-stabilized units in Flushing say Zara Realty harassed and tricked them into paying predatory fees.

PRESS MENTION: New York Workers Are Waiting on $79 Million in Back Wages

New York Workers Are Waiting on $79 Million in Back Wages

(Courtesy of ProPublica)


The New York State Department of Labor still needs to recover 63% of stolen wages during a five-year period analyzed by ProPublica and Documented. The problem? An understaffed agency with poor tools for recovering wages and enforcing judgments.

This article was produced for ProPublica’s Local Reporting Network in partnership with DocumentedSign up for Dispatches to get stories like this one as soon as they are published.

Saprina James was hopeful when she received a letter in 2019 about her wage theft claim against her former employer. The letter said the New York State Department of Labor had substantiated her claim and ordered Mugisha F. Sahini and his company, Riverside Line, to pay her more than $70,000 in back wages. “I was feeling good that the government was on my side, and that I would soon get paid,” she said.

James first started driving a van for Sahini in January 2016, taking people to medical appointments in Buffalo, New York. She often worked six days a week, usually helping dialysis patients who relied on walkers, and drove clients from 4:30 a.m. until 10 p.m. She didn’t mind the long hours — she assumed that her pay would ultimately reflect her hard work.

“It was very hard for me,” said James, who had a difficult time paying her rent and groceries, as well as taxes owed on her income as an independent contractor.

In late 2017, James quit and filed a wage theft claim with the Department of Labor, accusing Sahini and Riverside Line of violating the minimum wage law. She was later joined by her former co-workers, who also claimed minimum wage violations.

The agency substantiated the workers’ claims two years later, ordering Sahini to pay nearly $425,000 in back wages and $850,000 in penalties.

But the Department of Labor, which is responsible for both investigating wage theft claims and recovering back wages, has not been able to collect even a penny on behalf of James. Sahini flatly refused to pay for more than a year, James said, and then appealed the case, claiming that he wasn’t aware that the workers were earning less than minimum wage. The appeal has since been rejected, but James has yet to receive any payment.

About to turn 60, James said she’s now unemployed and running through her savings to pay her bills. “I’m so upset,” she said. “This is ridiculous. I don’t understand why it takes so long.”

Sahini did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

What happened to James is strikingly common among victims of wage theft in New York state, an investigation by Documented and ProPublica found. She and her former co-workers are among thousands of wage theft victims whose employers were ordered by the Department of Labor to pay, but for whom the agency failed to fully recover back wages, according to an analysis of the agency’s database of wage theft violations from 2017 through 2021.

In all, during the five-year period, the agency determined that at least $126 million in wages had been stolen from workers, the analysis shows. As of Feb. 21, however, the agency still needed to recover about $79 million of that total — or about 63% of the back wages.

Of the outstanding back wages, the agency hadn’t recovered at least $7.8 million because of “uncollectible” circumstances, such as businesses going bankrupt or investigators being unable to track down employers, the analysis shows.

The rest, about $71 million, was labeled by the agency as “pending payment,” which means either that no payments or only partial payments had been made, or that the cases were being appealed.

Of the thousands of businesses in the database, at least 95 with outstanding back wages were repeat offenders, each failing to fully pay in at least two cases during the five-year period, the analysis shows.

A case in point: The agency began investigating Brooklyn-based Reymond Construction in 2018 and opened three additional cases in 2019 based on claims filed by 12 workers. It eventually ordered the company to pay more than $31,950 in back wages, but as of Feb. 21 the payments were still pending. The owner of Reymond Construction did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

Labor experts said it’s hard to compare New York’s wage recovery effort against those of other states because of the paucity of wage theft data. State labor enforcement agencies across the country either do not make such information publicly available or do not maintain it in a standardized format that allows for state-by-state comparisons.

National Mobilization Against Sweatshops, a worker-rights organization, is so frustrated with the Department of Labor’s wage recovery rate that it has mostly stopped sending workers to the agency. “It’s a waste of time,” said JoAnn Lum, the group’s director. “I’ve seen so many workers file claims, and they’re told that they’re owed so much in back wages — and then nothing happens.”

Advocates and labor lawyers, as well as eight former Department of Labor officials interviewed by Documented and ProPublica, said it’s critical for the agency to improve its wage recovery rate. But they said the agency has a number of problems that prevent that from happening: Its enforcement unit is chronically understaffed; it lacks a collections unit tasked with wage recovery; and its investigators, unlike their counterparts in other states, do not have legal authority to take actions against recalcitrant employers.

The former agency officials, some of whom had spent decades working at the Department of Labor, said these challenges often leave investigators incapable of enforcing the law against unscrupulous employers. One official — who still works in state government and did not want his name used out of fear of retaliation — put it this way: “If an employer said, ‘Fuck you,’” in response to a payment demand, “there’s not much the agency can do.”

The Department of Labor, which released wage theft data after Documented sued the agency over its refusal to do so, “works diligently to protect the paychecks of hard-working New Yorkers,” Aaron Cagwin, an agency spokesperson, said in a statement.

Cagwin said the agency is also “consistently making improvements to its wage theft investigations and wage recovery processes,” including improving how wage theft claims can be filed and expanding law enforcement partnerships.

Advocates said workers are the ones who suffer the consequences of the agency’s poor wage recovery rate: They are often forced to move on to other jobs, rely on their family for support, go on public assistance, or relocate to another state or, in the case of immigrants, back to their country of origin.

“Wage theft impacts the lowest-wage workers who need that money to pay the rent, buy groceries, take care of their families,” said Magdalena Barbosa, senior vice president at Catholic Migration Services. She noted that New York has strong labor laws that don’t “trickle down into enforcement — and you have workers waiting sometimes for many years to get a small piece of what they’re owed in back wages.”

Vincent Cao, an organizer with the Chinese Staff & Workers Association, said “it’s the cruelest slap in the face to award them back wages that take so long to arrive.”

On a bitterly cold morning in December, a former senior investigator with the Department of Labor was sitting in a coffee shop in Brooklyn, reflecting on his years at the agency. Bald and bespectacled, he raised his eyebrows and described a Sisyphean environment in which overworked investigators faced scarce resources, bureaucratic obstacles and unscrupulous employers and their lawyers while trying in vain to reduce a backlog of thousands of wage theft cases. “It feels hopeless sometimes,” he said, “but more than hopeless — it makes me angry.”

The former investigator’s assessment was echoed by the seven other agency officials interviewed by Documented and ProPublica. They all expressed their frustration with the agency’s chronic failure to fulfill one of its core mandates: to protect the state’s 10 million workers from wage theft.

The former investigator, who still works in state government and did not want his name used out of fear of retaliation, blamed New York’s political leaders for not prioritizing the agency’s mission and perpetually underfunding it.

Budget figures for the agency’s enforcement arm, the Division of Labor Standards — which the former investigator joined more than a decade ago — are available from 2008 to 2022, and they show that its budget went up by 17.8% from $28 million to $33 million during that period. Just to keep up with the inflation rate, the budget would have had to increase by an additional $5 million.

Some state lawmakers said the agency’s woes were particularly pronounced during the tenure of former Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who ran New York from 2011 to 2021. On the one hand, Cuomo launched two joint task forces made up of multiple agencies to crack down on industries, such as car washes and construction, where wage theft is prevalent. But he also instituted a spending cap that kept most state agencies from increasing their budget by more than 2% each year.

With the tight budget, the Division of Labor Standards reduced the number of employees from 282 in 2008 to 140 in 2017, while the number of open investigations climbed from 6,923 in January 2008 to 15,824 in January 2017, according to agency documents obtained by Make the Road New York, an immigrant-rights organization, and shared with Documented and ProPublica. The vast majority of the division’s employees are investigators, while administrative and support staff make up the rest.

Carmine Ruberto, who ran the Division of Labor Standards from 2007 to 2015, recalled the impact of the tight budget on staff morale and workload. “Do I think we could have done better under Cuomo if we had gotten more people? Sure,” he said.

Richard Azzopardi, a spokesperson for the former governor, said wage theft was “a huge priority” for Cuomo, but his administration’s hands were tied with limited resources.

“In 10 of the 11 years during his administration, we had structural deficits and we came in at the heels of the Great Recession where giant cuts had already been made. And we had to restructure government in order to make things right,” Azzopardi said. “I do understand that some people have different opinions on what the money should have been spent on. But it’s a balance.”

Under Gov. Kathy Hochul, the Division of Labor Standards saw its budget increase by $7 million, or 19.5%, in 2023, but the number of full-time employees now stands at 129 and has increased only by three since the governor took office in 2021.

Justin Henry, deputy communications director for Hochul, declined to comment.

The former investigator said the tight budget also meant that the agency couldn’t form a collections unit fully staffed with those versed in financial fraud investigation, asset tracking and locating employers, which could then be deployed for wage recovery — a task that Terri Gerstein, the agency’s former deputy commissioner, called “a crucial part of the process.”

Instead, the agency has been relying on senior investigators to handle the task, which adds to their workload and sometimes requires them to do tasks they’re not trained for, such as overseeing the payment plans of some employers, several former agency officials said.

The agency needs “a proper collections unit,” Gerstein said.

In addition to the lack of the collections unit, the former agency officials said the process is slowed down because each case has to be reviewed by several layers of officials.

For instance, once a claim is substantiated, the case goes to a senior investigator, who can sometimes take up to a year and a half to review it. Similarly, when an employer is unresponsive, the Division of Labor Standards issues an order to comply, but only after getting approvals from three more layers of officials.

The former investigator said the bureaucratic bottleneck helped create long delays in recovering back wages. “It’s not like we push a button and increase the speed of the machine and then the cases come out at the other end,” he said.

The analysis of the agency’s database appears to back up the former investigator’s claim. As of Feb. 21, the agency had recovered no wages in 8,300 cases — affecting about 29,000 workers — that were at least five years old, or more than a fifth of the total cases from that time period.

Two of the long-pending cases were filed by Fernando, a 49-year-old Mexican immigrant who worked as a delivery driver for two Brooklyn restaurants. He filed his claim against the first restaurant in 2009 and another claim with his co-worker against the second restaurant in 2015.

The agency substantiated the claims, finding that two restaurants owed Fernando and his co-worker a total of more than $380,000 in back wages. Fernando, who requested to be identified by only his middle name because he’s undocumented, said he has not received his back wages. “The most important thing is the DOL could resolve these cases quicker,” he said.

The former agency officials said that when investigators try to go after employers for back wages, they find themselves without effective enforcement tools to force quick payments.

The orders to comply, for instance, can be appealed at the state’s Industrial Board of Appeals, a five-person panel that can take months, or even years, to adjudicate a case. In the vast majority of the cases, the board eventually sides with the agency. But even then, former agency officials said, employers often continue to ignore the orders, knowing that they are unlikely to face any consequences from doing so.

The former agency officials also said filing judgments in court against particularly recalcitrant employers often fails to force quick payments: While it puts a mark on their credit report, employers can and do get around the judgment by conducting their businesses in someone else’s name or getting a private loan from their family and friends.

Advocates and labor lawyers agreed that this was common practice. “Just because you get a judgment doesn’t mean you can collect on it,” said Margaret McIntyre, a lawyer who represents wage theft victims.

Advocates and labor lawyers said New York could adopt a number of tactics that have been successfully deployed in other states.

In Maryland and Wisconsin, for instance, workers are allowed to place a lien on their employers’ personal property to secure the payment of back wages. This has proven to be effective, according to a 2015 report by the Legal Aid Society, Urban Justice Center and the National Center for Law and Economic Justice. “A wage lien not only encourages an employer to dispute the matter and play fair in court, but ensures that if the workers win their case, they may actually be able to enforce a judgment against the employers’ property and collect the wages they are owed,” the report said.

New York, in fact, has had a lien law for decades, but it only applies to certain workers in the construction industry. Industry pressure, especially from the powerful New York City Hospitality Alliance, which represents restaurant owners, has helped defeat legislation introduced in recent years to expand the law’s scope.

In June, after the latest lien bill stumbled in Albany, the Hospitality Alliance issued a statement, saying it would have been a violation of due process to allow an employee to place a lien on “the private property of the owners, investors and even managers of the business based solely on the accusation of wage violations.”

In California, businesses appealing the finding of wage theft violations are required to post a surety bond up to $150,000, which they forfeit if they fail to pay back wages after losing on appeal. Those who fail to post the bond can be and are prohibited from doing business in the state.

In New York, the state has a similar bonding rule, which was implemented in the wake of a 2015 New York Times exposé on working conditions in nail salons, but it only applies to owners of nail salons with at least two workers. New York City also has a limited bonding rule that applies to owners of car wash businesses. Advocates for nail salon and car wash workers said they didn’t have enough data to know whether the bonding rules have significantly helped reduce wage theft.

Some states and local communities have also used the licensing and contracting processes to their advantage.

In 2015, for instance, Cook County in Illinois took aim at violators of state and federal wage laws, disqualifying them from lucrative county contracts. In 2019, Santa Clara County in California also launched a pilot project that would suspend the licenses of any business for five days if it fails to pay back wages. Before the year’s end, the county suspended eight licenses, mostly from restaurants, and each led to the payment, according to the county’s Office of Labor Standards Enforcement. “Being closed for five days is really bad for a restaurant’s business, so they seek to avoid that,” Gerstein said.

Adopting these approaches “wouldn’t make wage theft disappear in New York, but it would make a difference,” said Rick Blum, staff lawyer at the Legal Aid Society.

Some workers have already lost faith in the Department of Labor — and this includes a young woman named Kirsten, who filed a wage theft claim with the agency in August 2020 against a downtown Manhattan bar that had repeatedly failed to pay her. Kirsten, who requested to be identified by only her middle name to protect her future employment prospects, said she submitted documents and pay stubs. She didn’t hear back for more than a year and a half, until a phone call and letter from an investigator in the spring of 2022 asking her for more information about the case.

To this day, Kirsten said she has not received her back wages and has given up altogether. The agency “has been useless to me,” she said. “It just feels hopeless, like workers are all alone.”

About the Data

Determining the prevalence of wage theft in New York is more complicated than in some other states, including California, Massachusetts and Texas, because its Department of Labor does not make the results of investigations readily available to the public.

Documented filed a public records request for that information in 2019. When the department refused to release it, Documented took the agency to court. The agency has since released to Documented and ProPublica its database containing information on nearly 97,000 cases that began and concluded from 2005 to Feb. 21, 2023. Department of Labor officials told us that they began using this database fully in 2008, so we only analyzed cases from that year onward.

The database provides a number of details on each case, including the names and addresses of businesses that committed the violation, the number of workers who were affected and cited labor law violations.

But the database only provides the dates of when cases began, so we focused most of our analysis on cases from 2017 to 2021.

To determine how many businesses had multiple wage theft cases and still owed back wages, we manually standardized business names and addresses and counted instances in which a company still owed back wages in at least two cases.

To determine the percentage of back wages recovered, we tallied the amount of collected back wages and divided it by the amount of outstanding back wages in all cases contained in the database. Our metric may overestimate the percentage of back wages recovered. In some cases, the recovered amount recorded in the database might also include “liquidated damages,” which are payments for the harm caused by the wage theft and interest. The database does not differentiate between these different types of collected funds. In cases where the recovered amount was greater than the outstanding back wages, we adjusted the recovered amount to equal the outstanding back wages.

The analysis does not take into account the cases reported to the U.S. Department of Labor, which also investigates wage theft in New York but does not make public any database showing how much back wages have been recovered by the agency.

Read the original story in ProPublica: New York Workers Are Waiting on $79 Million in Back Wages

PRESS MENTION: Queens residents in rent-stabilized buildings take aim at Zara Realty, claim tenant abuse

Queens residents in rent-stabilized buildings take aim at Zara Realty, claim tenant abuse

July 31, 2023
By Elle McLogan

(Courtesy of CBS New York)

NEW YORK — Zhao Yu Zhen lives in an apartment on Ash Avenue in Queens, but it’s hard for her to get in the building.

“Every time, I can’t get in,” she said in Chinese. “There’s no key.”

Since Zara Realty took over their building in Flushing, she and her neighbors say they’re asked to produce birth certificates, marriage licenses, even high fees for access to their own homes. In some cases, a family of five is given only one key to the entrance.

Residents from some of Zara’s nearly 40 rent-stabilized buildings across the borough, with support from attorneys and elected officials, are protesting what they call tenant abuse.

“I can’t find anyone who can help me,” said Zara tenant Moream Pervin, who lives in Jamaica.

She said she received notice her rent could go up by hundreds of dollars per month. She and the majority immigrant and low-income tenants believe it’s part of an effort to force them out.

They say Zara is skirting rent stabilization through the use of MCIs, or major capital improvements, which are building upgrades tenants say they don’t want, like masonry and waterproofing.

Meanwhile, they claim, the real issues go unaddressed, like mold, pests, inconsistent heating, and accessibility failures.

Zhao Yu Zhen said she has told her building’s superintendent about her broken stove and plumbing problems, but that he claims he can’t help her.

Zara Realty has been under scrutiny for years. State Attorney General Letitia James filed a lawsuit in 2019 against the corporation for unscrupulous practices, which is pending.

In a statement, a spokesperson for Zara Realty told CBS New York, in part, “The company provides quality, compliant, affordable housing and refutes the baseless accusations” and “City public records show that the company is in compliance with ADA accessibility guidelines as well as heating and hot water requirements.”

Zara describes the withholding of keys as a safety measure to prevent illegal subletting. The spokesperson went on to say that MCIs are essential for upkeep and are okayed by the state.

The New York Division of Housing and Community Renewal, the department responsible for approving MCIs, declined to comment on Zara Realty due to open litigation, but said that each MCI is carefully reviewed.

Tenants claim that when the landlord caught wind of their planned rally on the steps of a Zara building in Flushing on Thursday, their meeting spot was suddenly closed off for a paint job.

“That was just to block us from not using the steps to organize,” renter Maria Jenny Lopez said.

When Douglas Ostling’s son needed daily therapy appointments for his multiple sclerosis, the building denied the family access to ramps, Ostling claims.

“You can’t bring someone in a wheelchair down stairs,” he said.

Ostling says he stopped asking for a ramp when his son died four months ago.

PRESS MENTION: Flushing tenants speak out against Jamaica real estate company’s alleged harassment, unlawful rent increases

Flushing tenants speak out against Jamaica real estate company’s alleged harassment, unlawful rent increases

July 31, 2023
By Carlotta Mohamed

Photo courtesy of Legal Services NYC

During one of the hottest days in New York City on Thursday, July 27, Imran Patel, a Flushing resident at 140-60 Beech Ave. claimed that he and his family are facing eviction by Jamaica-based real estate company Zara Realty for putting an air conditioner in their apartment.

“We’re in the middle of a heatwave here in NYC and they’re threatening to kick us out of our home because we want to be able to live in this heat,” Patel said. “They claim that we’re violating the lease, but nothing in the lease says that we can’t have an AC in the window. They gave us no warning — the super had even told me two years ago that it was fine, but two weeks ago we were given a notice that Zara wanted to evict us.”

A spokesman for Zara Realty said Patel’s claims for not being able to have air conditioning in his apartment is false and is a safety concern. According to the company, the building has air conditioner sleeves and the tenant refused to install the air conditioner where it is supposed to be.

“Putting the air conditioner in the window is a significant risk to health and human safety as it could fall out of the window onto someone below causing serious injury or death,” the spokesman said. “The air conditioner sleeve is the appropriate, safest, and approved place for the air conditioner unit, not the window.”

Patel, who has been living at the apartment for 20 years, was joined by rent-stabilized tenants from two other buildings owned by Zara Realty (140-30 Ash Ave. and 140-50 Ash Ave.) at the July 27 press conference in calling out the company for alleged harassment of immigrant tenants, including asking for birth and marriage certifies, excessive fees for keys, and increasing rents by nearly $300 per month.

The tenants are being organized by CHHAYA CDC and Catholic Migration Services and represented by Queens Legal Services’ Tenant Rights Coalition.

“Zara has been continuously harassing us since they bought the building in 2019—there is no peace,” Patel said. “When Zara changed the locks, they only gave us one key for our family of five. We still only have one key. We have leaks and mold in our bathroom; the electrical outlets are loose and often don’t work.”

“And I’m not the only one,” Patel continued. “They’ve started eviction cases against a few other families in the building for the same reason. I’ll fight back and I know I will win, but I also know that for every tenant like me, there’s another who would move out of fear because an eviction record can destroy your chance at finding a home.”

After two years, Maria Jenny Lopez, a tenant of 140-30 Ash Ave., was able to get a key for her brother who lives with her. Lopez claims she suffered harassment, including Zara employees on the fire escape taking pictures through her window.

“Other tenants are still waiting for a key and are forced to pay up to $100. It’s outrageous for such a simple yet important thing. They are also asking us for marriage or birth certificates. This isn’t right. That is abuse. That is harassment,” Lopez said.

Doug Ostling, a tenant organizer and resident of 140-50 Ash Ave., said he’s “sick and tired of Zara’s harassment tactics and attempts” to raise their rents.

“This is our home. This is our community. We pay our rent just like everyone else, but Zara continues to harass us and treat us like pawns in their money-making schemes,” Ostling said. “They don’t make basic repairs and then try to raise our rent? Enough is enough. We just want to live peacefully and in safe and livable homes!”

The tenants claim Zara is trying to unlawfully raise rents by filing Major Capital Improvement (MCI) applications with the NYS Department of Homes and Community Renewal (DHCR), the state agency that oversees rent-stabilized buildings in New York.

They’re calling on DHCR to deny Zara’s applications due to building disrepairs and apply the letter of the law which prohibits MCIs while certain violations exist.

The tenants allege that there is a lack of heat and hot water, roaches and mice infestation in the hallway and basement, leaking roofs, broken garage chutes, and security cameras they can’t access. According to the tenants, Zara’s repairs include “patchwork jobs” that quickly fall back into disrepair.

Zara Realty, which manages about 2,500 rent-stabilized apartments in Queens and surrounding areas, was sued in 2019 by New York State Attorney General Letitia James over violations of New York’s rent stabilization and tenant harassment laws.

In response to the Flushing tenants’ allegations, Zara Realty said it “provides quality, compliant, affordable housing and refutes the baseless accusations.”

“The company’s unwavering commitment remains in providing top-notch homes for its tenants that are clean, safe and modernized — meeting the standards set by all New York City and New York State climate laws and mandates,” the company said in a statement.

According to Zara, it cannot raise rents or MCI costs without the city or state approval.

“It is important to note that the process for any major capital improvement (MCI) project at a rent-stabilized building requires that tenants weigh in and landlords establish cause, that is before state regulators authorize any related cost increase,” Zara Realty said in a statement. “The company continually makes quality capital investments in all its properties, as approved by New York State and, in turn, any cost increases incurred by our tenants are directly authorized, in advance, by those same state regulators.”

According to Zara, the company is years ahead of the 2025 and 2030 environmental standards set for building owners that city and state regulators have mandated to “decarbonize, solarize rooftops, and replace older heating and hot water systems with cleaner, greener energy efficient models” to boost performance while reducing emissions.

In regards to safety, Zara said it reaffirms “its stance on tenants to respect the safety and security of neighbors and buildings where they live,” while noting concerns of “unauthorized people gaining access to their building.” Zara also noted that city public records show it’s in compliance with ADA accessibility guidelines, as well as heating and hot water requirements.

Meanwhile, organizers said their demands are clear.

“Audit all MCI in the Zara portfolio and pause all current MCI until the audit is complete,” said Rima Begum, associate director of the Housing Stability Program at Chhaya CDC.

Xiaowen Liang, an attorney at Queens Legal Services’ Tenant Rights Coalition, said Zara’s deceptive rent practices and intimidation have gone on for too long.

“It’s time for the NYS Department of Homes and Community Renewal to step up and apply the law fairly by denying these unlawful MCI applications,” Liang said. “These tenants deserve better. They deserve dignity and respect and they deserve to live in safe and affordable homes. We won’t stop fighting until Zara is held accountable and puts an end to their exploitation of these tenants and their families.”

Local elected officials, such as State Senator John Liu and Congresswoman Grace Meng, are supporting those who are speaking out against Zara Realty.

“Zara has a long history of mismanagement and harassment in its buildings and this example here in Flushing is one the worst,” Liu said. “Using MCIs to improperly increase rents while buildings sit in rampant disrepair with outstanding violations is totally unacceptable. Enough is enough.”

Meng said that tenant harassment is “unacceptable” and must not be tolerated.

“No New Yorker deserves to be subjected to harassment, unfair treatment and adverse conditions by their landlord and that includes those who reside in apartments owned by Zara Realty,” Meng said.

PRESS MENTION: Rosato reigns supreme: Celebrated trial attorney takes helm of the Brooklyn Bar Association

Rosato reigns supreme: Celebrated trial attorney takes helm of the Brooklyn Bar Association

June 22, 2023
By Rob Abruzzese

Joseph Rosato was installed as president of the Brooklyn Bar Association during a ceremony at Borough Hall. Pictured with Rosato (right) is Past President Gregory Cerchione (left) and Hon. Lawrence Knipel, the administrative judge of the Kings County Supreme Court, Civil Term. Brooklyn Daily Eagle photos by Mario Belluomo.

The grand ceremonial courtroom at Borough Hall bustled with anticipation as the Brooklyn Bar Association held its annual Induction Ceremony on Wednesday, June 14. The ceremony honored the installation if its new president, officers, and trustees.

The star of the event, Joseph Rosato, a renowned trial attorney and community pillar, stepped into the role of president amid friendly jibes likening the ceremony to his bar mitzvah.

The Rosato family including wife, Fran Rosato (in white).

This isn’t Rosato’s first time leading a bar association. his impressive resume includes presidencies at the Nathan R. Sobel Inns of Court, The Columbian Lawyers Association, and the Catholic Lawyers Guild. In a scene familiar yet significant, Hon. Matthew D’Emic, Rosato’s best friend, carried out the induction ceremony.

“There is a history I have with almost everyone in this room over the years, and the memories are just precious,” Rosato remarked, brimming with gratitude. “I want to thank everyone for taking the time to be here today.”

Rosato steps into his role as president at a time of cautious optimism. The bar association , like many organizations, has weathered significant challenges over the past few years due to the pandemic. However, Rosato, demonstrating his characteristic resilience, believes better days are on the horizon.

“These past few years, for all of us, have been somewhat difficult, and I don’t know about you, but I’m starting to feel better,” he said, displaying his natural leadership and empathetic understanding. He optimistically spoke of the Association’s future, stating, “The bar association is improving, try to come by.”

Rosato is a renowned trial attorney whose reputation precedes him, both for his courtroom successes and his unfaltering commitment to legal reform and mentorship. His work has resulted in over two hundred million dollars in verdicts and settlements, cementing his position as one of the industry’s most effective and driven advocates.

Born and raised in Brooklyn, Rosato received his undergraduate degree from New York University before attending Brooklyn Law School while working full-time as a court officer.

Borough President Antonio Reynoso welcomed the Brooklyn Bar Association to Borough Hall for the ceremony.

Rosato began his career in the insurance defense field before moving to the preeminent plaintiff’s personal injury firm of Schneider, Kleinick, Weitz, Damashek and Shoot in 1996. There, he honed his skills as a trial attorney, particularly in complex litigation. His career trajectory led him to merge with the legendary attorney Johnnie Cochran, forming the New York office of the Cochran Firm.

Even amidst his rigorous legal practice, Rosato found time to dedicate his energies to the betterment of the legal community. his dedication led him to serve as president of the Columbian Lawyers Association of Brooklyn, the Catholic Lawyers Guild of Kings County, and the Nathan R. Sobel Inns of Court.

New officers installed (from left): Bruno Codispoti, Daniel Antonelli, Christina Golkin, and Anthony Vaughn, Jr.

His contributions to the legal profession extend beyond his presidency roles. He is a member of the Independent Judicial District, the Judicial Screening and Grievance Committees for the Brooklyn Bar Association, and a Master in the King’s County Inns of Court. His volunteer work also includes serving on the board of Catholic Migration Services of the Diocese of Brooklyn, providing legal assistance and outreach to immigrant communities.

Rosato was not the only one to step into a new role last Wednesday. The ceremony also saw Anthony Vaughn, Jr., become president-elect, Christina Golkin as first vice president, Daniel Antonelli as the second vice president, Angelicque Moreno as secretary, and Bruno Codispoti as treasurer. The newest trustees included Imran Ansari, Grace Borrino, Andrea Caruso, Adam Kalish, Daniel Miller, Joy Thompson, and Joseph Vasile, heralded as some of Brooklyn’s most respected young attorneys and future BBA leaders.

New trustees installed (from left to right): Joseph Vasile, Adam Kalish, Andrea Caruso, and Grace Borrino. Not pictured are Imran Ansari, Daniel Miller, and Joy Thompson.

The 150-strong audience witnesses warm praise for Rosato from the assembled dignitaries.

“He’s going to be one of the best presidents that we will have,” said Hon. Frank Seddio. “His John Hancock will be signed right on top of our records, and he will build on top of the foundation that was there so we will truly be the palace that we should be and the primary bar association in the entire state of New York.”

From left: Joseph Bova, Gregory LaSpina, Hon. Frank Seddio, Joseph Rosato, and Yolanda Guadagnoli, president of the Columbian Lawyers Association of Brooklyn.

Hon. Ingrid Joseph, a longtime friend of Rosato, fondly recounted their early years of camaraderie. “I don’t remember who we met, but Joe had a friendly and outgoing personality, and I felt a kinship with him from the beginning,” she shared.

Judge Ingrid Joseph and Joseph Rosato.

With his installation as the BBA president, Rosato sets out to make his mark on the organization, bringing years of leadership experience and an unwavering commitment to the legal profession. The coming term under his presidency promises renewed vigor for the association as it continues to navigate and adapt to the challenges ahead.

From left: Hon. Commie Mallafre Melendez, Hon. Bernard Graham, Dean Delianites, Hon. Rosemarie Montalbano, and George Farkas.

Read the original story in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle: Rosato reigns supreme: Celebrated trial attorney takes helm of the Brooklyn Bar Association