Tag Archives: lawsuit

Judge dismisses ousted Queens Library trustees’ lawsuit against BP Katz


| ejankiewicz@queenscourier.com

Photo courtesy of Queens Library/File photo

Updated at 5:06 p.m.

A federal judge granted the request of six former trustees of the Queens Library to dismiss their lawsuit that challenged Borough President Melinda Katz’s decision to remove them from the board last summer.

The firings came after a battle over the tenure of library director Tom Galante, who was criticized after a smoking deck was built outside his office in the Central Library in Jamaica as well as revelations that he augmented his $400,000 salary with more than $200,000 in part-time pay from the Elmont, L.I., school district.

Katz lauded the dismissal of the lawsuit, which she called “a bitter attempt by the removed trustees at personal retaliation devoid of consideration for the public interest.”

According to one of the lawyers representing the former trustees, the lawsuit was dismissed because the former trustees didn’t have the financial ability and emotional willpower to pursue the lawsuit. But, in a prepared statement, Katz said that the lawsuit was dropped based on its lack of merit.

The court’s action underscores just how specious their claims were,” she said. 

Hillary Prudlo, one of the lawyers representing the former trustees, disagreed with Katz’s assessment, pointing out that the court documents tell a different story.

“[Katz] gives the disingenuous impression that the judge denied the suit on its merits,” she said. “Her attacks on [the former trustees] had an emotional impact on them, and ultimately it just didn’t make sense for them to pursue this.”

Katz dismissed six members, and Mayor Bill de Blasio cut loose two board members in July.

The eight members cut loose were Joseph R. Ficalora, Jacqueline E. Arrington, Patricia Flynn, William Jefferson, Grace Lawrence, Terri C. Mangino, George Stamatiades and Stephen Van Anden.

Van Anden and Flynn were the mayoral appointees.

One of the trustees fired by Katz, who wished to remain anonymous, called the move “politics at its worst.” And in the lawsuit that Judge Frederic Block of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York struck down, the former board of trustees members called the ousting a “brazen and unconstitutional power grab.”

The six plaintiffs also demand unspecified monetary damages against Katz—including punitive damages—“on account of the egregious nature of the unconstitutional violations and Katz’s malicious and punitive conduct in publicly smearing plaintiffs in order to aggrandize herself,” according to court papers filed in Brooklyn federal court.

But this is not the end of the court battle over the firings. The ousted board members have filed a separate “whistleblowers” claim.

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Attorney postpones $25M lawsuit as Avonte Oquendo’s family awaits test results


By Queens Courier Staff | editorial@queenscourier.com

File Photo

Updated 2:52

CRISTABELLE TUMOLA, TERENCE CULLEN, ANGY ALTAMIRANO AND MAGGIE HAYES

As tests are underway to determine if the human remains and clothing found in College Point belong to missing teen Avonte Oquendo, the family’s lawyer has decided to hold back on the lawsuit until the results are known.

The search began when a passerby found an arm and legs Thursday near Powell Cove Boulevard and Endeavor Place about 7:15 p.m.

Police also found jaw, shoulder, collar and pelvic bones, ribs and several vertebrae, the NYPD said. Another arm and a skull were additionally found over the weekend. As of Monday, the search is continuing at the scene in College Point. 

Police said most of the body has been recovered.

A pair of size 16 jeans and size 5 ½ Air Jordan sneakers were found with the remains, matching those belonging to Avonte, said David Perecman, the family’s lawyer.

Authorities also recovered a white shirt with gray stripes similar to what Avonte was wearing when he went missing, according to police.

Avonte’s family is still remaining hopeful, even though the developing investigation have been “weakening” for them, said Perecman.

“They’re a strong group so they’re doing the best they can,” said Perecman. “A small window has opened up of recognition of the grim reality. But they are still holding on hope.”

Perecman said they hope to have the test results by Wednesday.

He initially said on Friday that he would be filing a lawsuit Monday, focused against the Department of Education and school safety, seeking $25 million. Yet now he said he will be holding off with the lawsuit until the test results come in because the “nature of the lawsuit could change.”

The autistic teen was last seen at the Center Boulevard School at 1-50 51st Ave. in Long Island City around 12:38 p.m. on Oct. 4. The school is just across from the East River.

His mother, Vanessa Fontaine, said her 14-year-old son is afraid of the water and thought he “wouldn’t go near it.”

There have been conflicting reports on how the Rego Park teen, who cannot verbally communicate and is supposed to be supervised at all times, managed to leave the school.

 

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Queens’ Morning Roundup


| ctumola@queenscourier.com

morning roundup

TODAY’S FORECAST 

Friday: Cloudy with occasional rain showers. High 53. Winds N at 10 to 20 mph. Chance of rain 70%. Friday night: Rain early followed by a mixture of wintry precipitation overnight. Low 37. Winds NNE at 10 to 15 mph.

EVENT OF THE DAY: Bach & Brew: Dongsok Shin & Leah Nelson

Pianist Dongsok Shin performs on the King Manor Museum’s fortepiano and is joined by violinist Leah Nelson. The program will include works by Johann Christian Bach and Muzio Clementi. Sample craft beer similar to what would have been enjoyed during Rufus King’s lifetime. Click here for more info or to submit an event of your own

City sues Bell Helicopter for $12.4 million after 2010 splash-land in Jamaica Bay

New York is demanding Bell Helicopter Textron fork over $12.4 million to replace an NYPD aircraft that was destroyed after it splash-landed in Jamaica Bay due to a mechanical defect, according to a new lawsuit. Read more: New York Daily News

Lawsuits filed in connection with Metro-North derailment

The first lawsuits have been filed in the deadly Metro-North derailment as some victims say the tragedy should have been prevented. Read more: CBS New York

Bus shooter’s insanity defense fails; jury convicts

A sociopathic gunman’s insanity defense failed on Thursday when a Queens jury convicted him of shooting three men dead — two on the Q111 bus. Read more: New York Post 

Small-business hiring increases slightly in November

Hiring for small businesses was just so-so in November. Read more: New York Daily News 

Mandela’s influence felt in New York City

When a newly freed Nelson Mandela visited the United States in 1990, his first stop was New York City. From elected officials to everyday New Yorkers, the political giant is remembered fondly for the strength of his character and the power of his example. Read more: AP

Family of Flushing Sandy victim officially files suit against city


| mchan@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Melissa Chan and courtesy of Facebook

The family of the Flushing man tragically killed by a felled tree during Sandy has officially filed a lawsuit against the city, legal sources said.

“The city has completely ignored the situation with their trees in Queens,” said the family’s attorney, Rosemarie Arnold.

Arnold filed a notice of claim in January on behalf of Tony Laino, 29, who is considered the storm’s first New York City victim.

He was pinned under a tree that ripped through his second-floor bedroom on October 29, police said.

“Around the corner from where this happened, someone else was killed last week,” said Arnold, referring to the pregnant woman recently killed by a tree in Kissena Park.

The attorney said the Lainos fought in vain for at least a decade to get the towering threat in front of their house removed.

She told The Courier the city tree was “overgrown, rotten and improperly pruned” and fell when it was confronted by predicted 80 miles per hour hurricane winds.

The victim’s parents, Carol and Robert Laino, and one of his two brothers, Nicholas Laino, are now suing for emotional, mental distress and monetary damages, including funeral and burial expenses, according to the claim.

“Let’s hope this lawsuit saves at least one other mother from the torment that Carol Laino is experiencing because of the unnecessary loss of her child,” Arnold said.

The amount the family plans to sue for is not yet determined, according to their lawyer.

The city’s Law Department said it was “awaiting a formal copy of the lawsuit and will review it upon receipt.”

“We recognize that the incident involves a loss of life, which is tragic,” said department spokesperson Elizabeth Thomas.

 

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60 Queens polling sites to have Bengali translations


| mchan@queenscourier.com

Ballots at 60 Queens polling sites this year will have Bengali translations, officials said, but advocates for South Asian voters are skeptical the move will crystallize.

“Our concern is that we were told in the past that Bengali ballots would be available, particularly for the November general election, and that did not happen,” said attorney Jerry Vattamala of the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF).

“We took their word and we sort of got burned,” he added. “Enough is enough.”

A group of South Asian proponents of Bengali ballots filed a lawsuit against the city’s Board of Elections (BOE) on July 2 for its failure, despite assurances, to provide adequate bilingual language assistance in four elections since April 2012.

“We tried to work with them, but then we came to an understanding they weren’t going to do it,” Vattamala said. “We just want something legally enforceable — written confirmation that Bengali will in fact be on the ballot for the next election.”

AALDEF represents the suit’s three plaintiffs, who say the BOE has not complied with the Voting Rights Act of 1965. They argue that the law requires the city to provide election information and language assistance to South Asian minorities.

Parts of Queens have been covered under a provision of the act since October 13, 2011.

“You would think it wouldn’t have to come to a lawsuit,” Vattamala said. “But these things are very reasonable, what we’re asking for.”

BOE spokesperson Valerie Vazquez confirmed the borough would have, for the first time, Bengali language assistance for the September 10 primary and November general elections this year.

The 60 polling sites are located mostly in southern Queens near John F. Kennedy International Airport and near Sunnyside, Woodside, Jackson Heights, Elmhurt and Bellerose.

Depending on the number of voters with limited English proficiency in those areas, some of them could also have Hindi or Hindi-Punjabi interpreters.

“It was always our intention to be in full compliance for the 2013 election cycle,” Vazquez said.

Bengali translations were never promised for 2012 elections, Vazquez said, because ballot vendors needed to make technical modifications to the system.

As an interim plan, the board hired full-time staff interpreters and provided a translated candidates list at each polling site in the covered areas, the BOE said.

Supporters of the change are now cautiously optimistic, but agree it is a “tremendous step forward.”

“It’s bringing democracy to more people in Queens,” said John Prakash Albert, board chair of Taking Our Seat, a nonprofit group aimed at empowering South Asians voters.

State Senator Toby Ann Stavisky — who co-sponsored legislation that would require the BOE to provide written Bengali, Punjabi and Hindi language assistance — said implementing Bengali ballots “will have a direct and measurably positive impact on the lives of our neighbors.”

The bill was introduced in the state legislature last year, but never moved out of the Senate’s Elections Committee.

One of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, Mazeda Uddin, the national women’s chair for the Alliance of South Asian American Labor, said the elections board is “still lacking.”

“They’re not giving us everything,” she said.

Advocates are seeking binding confirmation from the BOE, a formal Bengali language assistance compliance plan and an agreement to meet with a Bengali language advisory group.

“Last election, they promised me,” Uddin said. “This is the most important for our community. Our people can’t choose the right candidate for lack of access. So many voters can’t vote.”

 

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Daughter of Elmhurst man killed in subway shove sues


By Queens Courier Staff | editorial@queenscourier.com

The daughter of the Elmhurst man killed when he was pushed onto the subway tracks of a Midtown station in December is suing the MTA, according to reports.

Ki Suck Han’s 20-year-old daughter, Ashley, filed suit in Manhattan Supreme Court yesterday.

Han, 58, was struck by a Brooklyn bound “R” train on December 3 at around 12:30 p.m. at the West 49th Street and 7th Avenue station after suspect Naeem Davis, 30, allegedly shoved him after an altercation.

Davis was charged with intentional murder in the second degree and depraved indifference murder in the second degree, the NYPD said.

In video footage taken on the subway platform right before the shoving incident, Davis was seen cursing and yelling at Han. He also reportedly made statements implicating himself while in custody.

The Han family is seeking reimbursement for monetary damages and funeral expenses.

Family of Sandy’s first victim to sue city


| mchan@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Melissa Chan/Laino photo courtesy of Facebook

The family of the Flushing man tragically killed by a felled tree during Sandy plans to sue the city after they said they fought in vain for at least a decade to get the towering threat removed, legal sources said.

A notice of claim has been filed on behalf of Tony Laino, 29, who was pinned under a tremendous tree that ripped through his bedroom in the upper left portion of his two-story home at 47-34 166th Street on October 29.

Laino, considered the storm’s first New York City victim, was pronounced dead at approximately 7 p.m., police said.

“Tony Laino was unnecessarily killed by a tree that didn’t belong there,” said the family’s attorney, Rosemarie Arnold. “It shouldn’t have been planted there to begin with. It was overgrown, rotten and improperly pruned.”

Arnold said these fatal factors caused the tree to fall when it was confronted by predicted 80 miles per hour hurricane winds.

“The city knew about everything years before it happened,” she said.

The victim’s parents, Carol and Robert Laino, and one of his two brothers, Nicholas Laino, are gearing up to sue the city for emotional, mental distress and monetary damages, including funeral and burial expenses, according to the notice of claim obtained by The Queens Courier.

New York City and its Parks Department were “grossly negligent, wanton, reckless, purposeful and/or breached their duties,” which led to Laino’s “wrongful and untimely death,” the claim said.

Family and neighbors said the disaster could have been averted if the city listened to their numerous complaints made over a decade about the enormous tree looming over the Lainos’ home.

“I’ve been telling them to take this tree down for 20 years,” said Bobby Laino, Tony’s other brother, who lived apart from his family and who is not listed as a claimant.

According to Arnold, the Lainos’ house deed shows the tree was on city, not private, property.

The Parks Department directed comment to the city’s Law Department, which said officials would evaluate the new claim.

“We recognize that this incident involves a loss of life, which is tragic,” department spokesperson, Elizabeth Thomas, said in a statement.

The amount the family plans to sue for was not yet determined, Arnold said.

Laino was the youngest of three brothers and a worked as a driver for Ace Party & Tent Rental, his friends said.

“[The family is] heartbroken,” Arnold said. “They’re beyond heartbroken.”

 

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Suit claims discrimination against black renters at Sunnyside apartment complex


| mchan@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Alexa Altman

Management officials at a Sunnyside apartment complex are facing a federal lawsuit for racial discrimination after they allegedly snubbed three African-Americans from renting apartments.

NASA Real Estate Corporation — which owns the 41-41 46th Street building — and superintendent Irfan Bekdemir are being sued for allegedly lying to three African-Americans, claiming no apartments were available for rent, and refusing to show them any openings, according to the suit.

Lisa Darden, James Edward Becton and Bianca Jones claim Bekdemir rejected them each but showed vacancies to white individuals who inquired about the same apartments less than an hour after they were slighted.

“You look like nice people. That’s why I show you,” he allegedly told the white potential buyers, the lawsuit said.

The three African-Americans listed as defendants in the suit, and the white individuals, were all hired by the Fair Housing Justice Center (FHJC) to pose as potential renters, the suit said. The nonprofit organization said the investigation was part of systematic testing FHJC conducts to uncover discriminatory practices in the city.

“Individual renters are often unaware that discrimination is occurring,” said Fred Freiberg, executive director of FHJC. “If housing discrimination is not detected, it is not reported. Yet, these odious practices restrict housing choice and perpetuate residential segregation.”

Bekdemir told The Courier his name in the suit is a mistake, since it is not his job to handle renters.

“I never have a problem with anybody,” said the employee of 25 years. “There are a lot of people here. It looks like the United Nations.”

But of the 108 total apartments in the complex, only two or three are occupied by African-American families, he said.

6th District candidates start making the rounds


| mchan@queenscourier.com

Three major democratic primary hopefuls — Assemblymember Grace Meng, Assemblymember Rory Lancman and Councilmember Elizabeth Crowley — recently spoke at the North East Flushing Civic Association's forum. Dr. Robert Mittman fights to remain on the ballot.

A dark horse candidate in the 6th District Congressional race was a long way from succumbing to the political slaughterhouse, but soon-to-be revealed results could mean a one-way ticket to the glue factory.

According to Dr. Robert Mittman — who is considered a longshot out of four democratic primary runners — the State Supreme Court has sent his signatures back to the Board of Elections (BOE) for a recount. A BOE representative said the board has not yet received word from the court and could not confirm.

A hearing  held by the board on May 1 determined Mittman had enough valid signatures to remain on the ballot, but the Bayside allergy specialist was taken to court by opponent Assemblymember Rory Lancman late last week.

According to Mittman, the two attorneys have been in the BOE for two days straight since May 8 going over his 1,200 signatures. Mittman said the two parties would hear results from the court on May 10, after The Courier went to press.

“It’s obvious they’re winning that war because this is a delay tactic,” Mittman said. “The purpose of this is to knock me off. This is a typical political maneuver, which is something I’m not used to. I’m a citizen who has the ideals of the community. But I accept it as it is. I don’t hold it against anybody.”

Mittman encouraged other citizens and non-career politicians to not be intimidated and consider running for office in the future.

“I think it’s very important,” he said. “I think a lot of politicians have lost touch with what is really going on in the community.”

Meanwhile, the three other democratic primary hopefuls — Assemblymember Grace Meng, Assemblymember Rory Lancman and Councilmember Elizabeth Crowley — have been speaking at a series of civic meetings this week to introduce themselves and discuss local and national issues.

At a May 3 forum hosted by the North East Flushing Civic Association, Meng said she was running to address issues surrounding education and zoning, to fight for Social Security and Medicare for seniors, and to improve infrastructure.

Lancman emphasized his mission to “level the playing field for ordinary people” and said, if elected, he would be a “tough critic” on United Nations spending and would work to raise the minimum wage.

Crowley also said she would fight for Social Security and support seniors. She remained adamant on her stance on bringing U.S. troops home, even when an audience member said that ideal clashed with her views on protecting the city from terrorism threats.

A former democratic underdog, Ada Juan Sheng, was bumped off the ballot last week due to a lack of sufficient signatures and was taken to State Supreme Court by Meng. But the Briarwood television producer said she is now seeking sanctions against Meng, who she said has “dragged her reputation through the mud.”

The China Press, Sheng said, relied on court papers and reported that she was accused of fraud. Sheng said because she can’t sue Meng for defamation for allegations made in court papers, she is asking State Supreme Court Justice Jeremy Weinstein to impose sanctions, costs and attorney fees pursuant to court rules.

“[Meng] obviously felt the need to make outrageously false allegations of criminal wrongdoing against me. Many of these allegations constitute misdemeanors and possibly felonies,” Sheng said. “Had she merely alleged that my petition did not have enough valid signatures, I would have gracefully withdrawn.”

Meng’s campaign has garnered $500,000 in just a month-and-a-half. She was recently endorsed by Akhon Samoy, a Queens weekly Bengali language newspaper, while Lancman rolled in boosts from the New American Voters Association, DC 37, DC 1707 and CSEA.

TLC lets liveries pick up passengers


| brennison@queenscourier.com

Livery cabs have received the green light to begin picking up street hails, a decision that has many yellow taxi drivers red in the face.

The decision was passed 7-2 by the city’s Taxi and Limousine Commission on Thursday, April 19.

“We’re seeing the birth of a wholly new service today that will allow communities throughout the five boroughs to enjoy and come to rely on the same levels of quality taxi service that are only experienced in portions of Manhattan,” said TLC Commissioner and Chair David Yassky.

Like yellow taxis, the fleet will have a unique color that has yet to be revealed, roof lights and meters.

Six thousand of the 18,000 street hail licenses will begin being sold for $1,500 in June, though a lawsuit filed a day before the vote has requested an injunction.

“The very same city that sold [yellow taxi drivers] the exclusive right to pick up street hails, no longer has the exclusive right,” said Michael Woloz, spokesperson for the

Metropolitan Taxicab Board of Trade, which represents nearly 4,000 yellow medallion taxicabs.

The lawsuit, filed in Manhattan, charges that the outer borough street hail plan violates the rights of yellow taxi medallion owners and drivers who paid for the exclusive right to pick up street hails in New York City.

“The over 5,000 individual owner/drivers are not wealthy people,” Woloz said. “These are New Yorkers who have invested in an asset that New York City has protected for the last 75 years. The value of the medallion is going to plummet because of government interference.”

Woloz cited more than $5 billion in outstanding medallion loans and the potential for a housing market-like crash if the value of the medallions declines.

Because the bill was passed by the state Legislature without a “Home Rule” message from the City Council, the lawsuit says the bill is in violation of the state constitution. A

“Home Rule” message indicates the approval of the local legislative body over a policy that only affects that locality.

“State senators from western New York had more say on taxi service in Queens than any City Council members,” Woloz said.

If a judge allows the plan to stand, street hails will only be legal above West 110th Street and East 96th Street and in the four outer boroughs. Liveries that solicit street hails in a prohibited area face the forfeiture of their license.

More tenants come out against Jamaica landlord


| mchan@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Melissa Chan

Fifteen more families in apartment complexes throughout Jamaica have joined the fight against their landlord, who they said constantly harasses them for money.

In December 2011, tenants of 90-36 149th Street filed suit against Zara Realty, which manages the building complex. Among the host of complaints, the tenants alleged unfair and repeated rent increases and a laundry list of basic repairs left disregarded.

Now, Robert McCreanor, director of legal services at the Catholic Migration Office — which represents the tenants — said the agency has asked the court to allow 15 more families from four other buildings managed by Zara Realty to be added to the lawsuit.

According to McCreanor, more tenants reached out to Catholic Migration, saying they are constantly being charged and harassed for bills they don’t owe. McCreanor said the tenants have been taken to court by their landlord, are regularly sent automated calls many times a day and have even been threatened to be reported to the credit bureau.

“This is a big problem,” said Eduardo Barahona, executive director of Centro Hispano Cuzcatlan — an advocacy group working directly with the tenants. “It’s frustrating that we still can’t stop this harassment after so many years.”

Barahona said he has been helping these tenants for close to 10 years, battling the same landlord and the same issues. He said he helps connect the tenants to Catholic Migration due to the fact that the majority of them predominantly speak Spanish.

“I hope there will be some kind of resolution. I hope things will be better,” Barahona said.

Meanwhile, George Subraj, president of Zara Realty, said the accusations are false.

“That’s not true. To harass someone for money, it’s a big, big thing,” he said. “You have to have just and proper cause. They have to actually owe the money. We have to prove that. I can justify that the moneys are indeed owed.”

According to Subraj, rent is due for each tenant at the first of every month. While residents have a five day grace period, he said any late payments after five days warrant “an oral demand” in the form of a telephone call once a month and then a legal, written demand if the first goes unanswered.

However, he said he has never called tenants more than once a month if they owe money, and he denied sending any automated calls.

Subraj did admit to taking several tenants to court due to “chronic non-payments.”

“One tenant was 40 times late with payment, and another was three months late,” he said, adding that some tenants are now under lenient court-ordered repayment plans. “We are really meticulous, and a lot of people don’t like that.”

McCreanor said the motion to add the extra families is pending and a decision would be reached by March 8.

 

Tenants angry over rent, lack of repairs at Jamaica apartment complex


| mchan@queenscourier.com

Tenants in one apartment complex in Jamaica have filed suit against their landlord, alleging unfair and repeated rent increases and a laundry list of basic repairs left disregarded.

“A lot of people are moving out of the building,” said Nelson Lopez, a tenant in the complex located at 90-36 149th Street. “Some people just can’t pay the rent because the landlord keeps raising it.”

Among the host of complaints, tenants say they live with vermin, leaky roofs, mold, rotting cabinets, cracked floors, broken locks and inadequate heat.

According to Eric Bederman, spokesperson for the Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD), in regards to complaints filed through 3-1-1, “there are no open housing code violations at this property and the agency does not have any pending litigation against the owner for anything at the property.”

However, a large-scale “full roof-to-cellar” inspection of the building has not been conducted, he said.

Bederman also said an HPD housing code inspector did issue a heat and hot water violation for a room in one apartment in the complex in February, but he said the landlord complied and corrected the issue.

“If something is not right, I can guarantee it will be fixed instantly,” said landlord George Subraj, president of Zara Realty which manages the building complex. “I always immediately attempt to fix the problems, but [the tenants] don’t let me into their apartments or give me access to get the repairs done. I always check to make sure we are doing good work.”

Subraj said the accusations of vermin and unsanitary conditions within the complex are false, believing most of the complaints and anger stem from the increase in rent after capital improvements were made throughout the building.

“This is a vendetta. It’s only noise they’re making. All this hoopla is for nothing,” Subraj said. “They just don’t want to pay.”

According to Subraj, the monthly rent went up an additional $61 per room. He said the tenants agreed to comply with rent increases — that stem from building-wide improvements — when they signed their lease.

The improvements completed before 2009 included adding new roofing and vandal-resistant doors, water proofing bricks and fixing elevators, intercom systems and boilers.

Subraj said the rent increases were approved by the state, but the Department of Homes and Community Renewal (HCR) declined to comment on the increase due to privacy laws.