By George Capsis
Oh wow—it was only a week ago that Dusty heard a rumor that our garrulous head WestView distributor (and former seaman) was retiring to Florida and I thought, “Where does he get the money to retire to Florida on the peanuts I pay him?” And, bang, yesterday I heard he was not going to Florida after all. What happened?
What happened is that the New York State Legislature had turned very Democrat after being very Republican for many, many years and the rent laws which “regulated” the nearly one million New York apartments that 2.4 million tenants live in—but left the landlords with a bunch of regulatory tricks and legal maneuvers that could ease tenants out—had been cut away with a vindictive, indiscriminate, slashing Democratic scalpel and, ironically, our distributor, who they were trying to protect, did not benefit.
Just last week his landlord offered him $105,000 if he would give up his $1,090 apartment on Christopher Street that he has occupied for 30 years. If he’d accepted the offer (which he did) and vacated, the landlord would soon arrive with his contractor and strip the aging apartment, lay shining wood floors, install the cheapest appliances he could find, and then charge $3,500-$4,000 rent per month.
Our friend both wanted and needed the $105,000. His teeth are falling out and he has already paid almost $3,500 to get work done but needs another $4,000 to continue, and this is not something the VA pays for. He’d found, online, a nice new retirement home in Florida that his nephew checked out as “Ok,” and sent a $350 deposit for it; and then, bang, no $105,000. He called the landlord’s office but they would not give him the money.
Ok, just think about how this all got started. We’ve got a bunch of laws and regulations that go back, like, 75 years to protect the G.I.s returning after the war from rising rents. (No middle-class housing had been built in New York from 1929 until after the war ended.)
Yes, well, blanket laws and regulations that affect, by definition, millions of people can occasion unfairness and abuse; to illustrate, I am going to offer one of my favorite little stories.
Forty-odd years ago, via a minor miracle and a broker who lent me the down payment, I took on a mortgage I could barely pay and bought a brownstone on Charles Street so my three kids could walk to P.S. 41 (as their anxious mother watched from the stoop), and found that I had rent-controlled apartments with tenants living in them.
But wait—before we could move into the garden apartment three steps down from the sidewalk, we discovered it was occupied by a newly divorced young lady who, as her lawyer informed me in writing, had been successful in keeping her apartment in eight efforts against the previous two owners. “Sell your contract,” was his advice.
Rage, rage, rage against the snotty young lawyer who used the “rent laws” as a soulless cudgel against my wife and three kids.
I waited weeks and weeks but finally got an appointment with the head of the New City Rent Control Board—a Mr. something like Bloomberg—who eyed me with guarded weariness as yet another complainer. I told my story of how this young woman would not let me move my family of three kids into the garden apartment so I might make a sand box for them. “When you get your court date call my secretary” was his only comment, and he left the room.
I made a drawing of the one-bedroom apartment we were living in on Lexington Avenue and East 29th Street (my wife’s bachelor pad) and then the 20 x 100-foot space, including the garden, that Miss Curtis occupied. I brought these to the hearing as exhibits one and two; but there was no Mr. Bloomberg there! (Then he slipped into the room and sat at the back.) The hearing officer asked Miss Curtis why she did not give up the apartment for our three children and she explained that it was simply impossible to give up the garden because her dog did not know how to use the streets. “He has to go in the garden.”
“Congratulations Mr. Capsis for winning in New York City court but please be advised we have applied to the State,” came a formal missive from her lawyer (because at that time we had city and state rent control). I wanted to kill.
I stormed down to Charles Street to confront Miss Curtis, only to discover a small man in the vestibule who identified himself as her father. I unleashed months of seething rage. Fortunately, he was short and frail and I heard from him, “Yes, yes, give me some time, we will take care of it,” and weeks later he sent me a note that he had bought his daughter a townhouse so her dog would still have a garden.
And then, justice—I discovered she had rent-control tenants.