A Bronx landlord is running afoul of the state’s emergency rental assistance program, say tenants who claim they’re being squeezed by the wealthy property owner.
But the landlord contends that’s simply not the case and that the situation is more complicated than their renters are letting on.
Those tenants allege a key piece of the program — which went into effect last June to help people with pandemic-induced financial problems — is being flouted to kick them to the curb.
At 3245 Perry Ave. in Norwood, two residents recounted how they applied and were approved for the state’s Emergency Rental Assistance Program, also known as ERAP. They also claim that their landlord — a company under the umbrella of Glacier Equities, which is controlled by Myles Horn — received money through the program.
But the landlord, they say, did something strange.
Eric Urquiza and Jose Ramos said that when they called the state’s ERAP hotline, they learned their landlord returned the funds sent by the state Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance, which administers ERAP.
“They just want me out of there,” said Urquiza, who has lived in the building for 17 years.
His neighbor, Ramos, recalled an exchange with Glacier’s Chief Investment Officer, Rachel Brill, in which he claims she told him Horn wants him and Urquiza out so he can sell their apartments.
“That’s why he’s not taking the money,” Ramos alleges Brill told him, adding, “He wants you out.”
Brill said that’s not exactly what she said, but confirmed the basic gist. She told the Daily News that Glacier is declining the ERAP money because the company does not intend to renew Ramos’ lease.
“Nothing would make us happier than to help him purchase his apartment,” she said. “We will go to great lengths to help the tenants purchase.”
But Ramos says he cannot afford the asking price, which is about $170,000.
The state’s Emergency Rental Assistance Program was set up by Albany lawmakers as a way to help tenants pay off rent arrears incurred after losing their jobs due to COVID-19 closures. It was also designed to help landlords who weren’t receiving rent payments.
By signing on to the program, landlords must agree not to evict people without cause for at least a year after renters’ first payment, and they are prohibited from raising rent in that time.
Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz, a Democrat who represents the Bronx neighborhood where Urquiza and Ramos reside, said he’s never heard of a situation like the one the two tenants now find themselves in and described it as “disgusting” and counterintuitive given the intent of the law, which he voted in favor of.
The purpose of the law, as he described it, is not only to protect tenants, but to prevent landlords from going bankrupt.
“Actions like that is what causes additional cases of homelessness,” he said. “That building is a nice building. It’s not a luxury building, but I’m sure the apartments can sell for a significant amount of money. I don’t begrudge people trying to make money, but I do if they’re trying to make it on the backs of working people, especially at the risk of making people homeless.”
Brill maintains that Glacier isn’t accepting the ERAP payments because it didn’t sign on to the program at that building. She also pointed out that because the Perry Ave. building is a co-op, Glacier has no intention of renewing the leases on the apartments whose shares the private equity firm owns.
But under state law, both the tenant and landlord must participate in the ERAP application process, according to Anthony Farmer, a spokesman for the state’s Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance, which administers ERAP. Until both parties participate in that process, a payment can’t be issued, he noted.
Brill claims that Glacier’s participation in the process essentially amounted to the company sending OTDA an acknowledgement that it owns the property — a missive which also included its intention not to participate in ERAP because the building is a co-op.
When asked for specifics about Urquiza and Ramos’ cases, Farmer declined to provide them because the agency is prohibited from sharing the information with the general public.
Glacier, Brill contended, has made “amazing” offers to sell the units to their tenants — with financing of up to 95%.
“We’re not evil landlords. We’re not bad people,” she said. “We’re not allowed to renew their leases. This is not a rental building.”
She said units occupied by renters must now go to co-op shareholders to help pay for repairs that are desperately needed in the building, and she also blamed Urquiza for “gaming the system,” pointing out that he appealed his own already-approved ERAP application.
Urquiza, who lost his job at LaGuardia Airport during the pandemic and now works for the West Bronx Housing and Neighborhood Resource Center, a tenant advocacy group, said he used his savings to pay his rent, but when that money dried up, he was unable to keep up his payments.
He claims he appealed his ERAP allotment because it wasn’t enough to pay off his back rent.
The alternative Brill has offered to buying his place is to move out — and Urquiza said that leaves him with little in the way of options because he can’t afford the down payment or get approved for a mortgage.
“They’re not giving us no deal,” he said.