BROOKLYN, NY – A prominent Brooklyn landlord faces a class action lawsuit from tenants who claim they were harassed for failing to pay rent during the coronavirus pandemic.
Carnegie Management, which owns at least fifteen properties in New York City, was sued this week by tenants from one of its properties on Eldert Street.
The lawsuit, filed on Thursday, comes nearly a year after tenants, many of whom lost their jobs in the pandemic, first formed a tenants’ organization and hired a lawyer. It is argued that tenants in four other nearby Carnegie buildings have faced the same treatment.
“We decided as a group to take legal action because if we didn’t, no one would get Carnegie to play outside the law,” one of the tenants, Cian O’Day, told Patch. “Landlords already have so much power over such a basic need. The game is stacked in their favor and they still chose to cheat.”
Tenants at 345 Eldert Street, five of whom are plaintiffs in the lawsuit, started their tenants’ organization in April when many lost their jobs or struggled financially from the pandemic. A large percentage of the building’s tenants are artists, independent contractors, or members of the gig economy, according to the association’s attorney Jack Lester.
In those early weeks, Carnegie began threatening tenants with late fees for their rental payments or negative reports to credit bureaus despite Governor Andrew Cuomo banning late fees.
The “inaccurate” reports, which are prohibited by law, have caused permanent financial and credit damage to tenants, the lawsuit said.
“The impact of negative credit can prevent people from renting new places, appearing on job applications, blocking insurance policy issuance and preventing people from receiving mortgages,” Lester said. “These credit reports are used to make decisions about who should be given economic resources such as jobs, housing, loans and insurance.”
Carnegie claims they didn’t charge any late fees for rent incurred during the pandemic or did anything illegal.
Some tenants are not satisfied with financial assistance and are trying “to use the eviction moratorium … regardless of their individual financial situation”. The company specifically pointed out one tenant in the lawsuit they can pay but who refused, and another who left the apartment more than a year ago, sublet it and not paid rent.
Only those who refused to pay or negotiate, or ignored their communications, were sent to a collection agency, Carnegie said.
“It is common practice for landlords to refer tenants who owe arrears to debt collection agencies, but we only do this as a last resort when we cannot reach a friendly agreement with a tenant or former tenant,” a spokesman told Patch.
Renters say Carnegie refused to bargain collectively with the association and continued to send threats to individual renters, despite a letter requesting all communications through their attorney in April.
The tenant who moved out did so because there was black mold in the apartment, they said.
“Instead of negotiating in good faith, they tried to isolate individual tenants while also running a campaign against harassment, intimidation and credit referral threats,” O’Day said. “The bottom line is that they refused to recognize the tenants ‘association and refused to negotiate with the tenants’ association.”