Queens residents in rent-stabilized buildings take aim at Zara Realty, claim tenant abuse
July 31, 2023
By Elle McLogan
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.