Vol. 18, No. 23 Dec. 1 - 14,  2005


Manhattan Tenants Also Report Problems with Pinnacle


A range of serious issues affecting Bronx residents since their buildings were bought seem to reflect the company’s practices in Manhattan, too. And while tenants say that the Pinnacle organization has stuck them with inflated repair costs, lawsuits and threatening notices, the group’s president denies any wrongdoing.

“We do everything necessary to create a safe environment for tenants,” said Joel Wiener, a large investor who runs Pinnacle.

But since the Norwood News published articles on the concerns of Pinnacle tenants in the Bronx, Manhattan tenants have contacted the paper complaining of similar problems in buildings owned by the same landlord.

Wiener and the Praedium Group, a mutual fund that finances many of the deals, have voraciously scooped up buildings across the city. They purchased 51 properties in the Bronx, Harlem and Washington Heights in 2004, 104 in upper Manhattan this past summer, and seven former Mitchell Lamas in the north Bronx, according to the New York Post and financial industry reports. Eight of the buildings are in Community District 7.

Once purchased, the properties are placed on a similar path. The company starts by making infrastructure repairs, like replacing entryways, installing security cameras, and improving the hallway lighting.

“We’re trying to bring these places back,” Wiener said. “We put a lot of work and effort into this.”

But many Pinnacle tenants in the Bronx and Manhattan say that looks are deceiving. After the work begins, residents are slapped with Major Capital Improvement (MCIs) charges and a laundry list of fees. The Neighborhood Initiatives Development Corporation (NIDC), a Bronx advocacy group working with some of the former Mitchell Lamas, has documented that many of the MCI bills are grossly inflated.

Leroy Singleton, an Olinville Avenue resident, says Pinnacle recently told him that his studio apartment was actually a one-bedroom, and his rent would be raised accordingly. “I can’t understand where the second room is,” said Singleton, 52.

Hazel Miura, a NIDC staffer working with tenants, has taken Pinnacle to court a dozen times for inappropriate costs. “They say the reason they overcharge is because of a clerical error, but they keep making them,” Miura said.

Pinnacle has also pursued legal action. Last month, they threatened to take several Olinville Avenue residents to court for refusing to let management replace their apartment doors, which would create additional costs.

“They’re trying to lay a muscle game on me,” said Joseph Brown, a resident who received a notice. Brown’s door looked solid when the Norwood News visited his apartment in October.

Several residents in one of the properties, Botanical Square in Bedford Park, were recently told that they were late on rent — even though they had receipts proving they weren’t — and could face eviction. In another trend, some tenants say they never received new leases, though their past ones expired.

“They have been refusing to renew leases,” said a 15-year Botanical Square resident, who didn’t want her name used. “It is shocking to most of the people here.”

Wiener denied that leases were being withheld. “We’re trying to have a stable tenancy in each building,” he said.

Several tenants at 706 Riverside Dr., a Manhattan building bought by Pinnacle in 1999, also say they haven’t received renewal leases. Residents say they’ve heard that Pinnacle intends to turn the rental property into condos. “He is clearing vacant apartments to reach the 15 percent necessary to convert the building,” said Kim Powell, a tenant and lawyer who has contacted the attorney general’s office about the issue.

Wiener would not comment on the matter, but Carol Abrams, a spokesperson for the city Department of Housing, Preservation and Development (HPD), thinks Pinnacle wants to create high-end properties. “Pinnacle seems to be buying up lots of properties … with the intent to convert them to condos and co-ops,” she said. “HPD is hearing that Pinnacle is not responsive to the longer term tenants.”

Many residents would agree. “No real work is being done in anyone’s apartment,” the Botanical Square tenant said. Two tenants reported that the company “fixed” lead paint problems by painting over the walls instead of stripping them. HPD lists 42 class C violations (the most serious level) for 725 Riverside Dr., and many of them are for lead paint. All of those violations are outstanding.

Wiener defended his maintenance practices, and repeatedly attributed one former tenant’s complaints to the fact that she was evicted for late rent payments. “This person had a different motivation,” he said.

Powell is working with tenants in other Harlem properties to form a coalition against Pinnacle. Council Member Bill Perkins met with residents in one Harlem building last month to discuss their concerns, and Abrams said HPD is looking into the issue. “Our enforcement staff is in the process of investigating the buildings,” she said.

In the meantime, residents fear the worst. “I know a huge storm is about to break,” said the Botanical Square tenant, who is disabled and lives on a limited income. “A number of people are really afraid of being put out on the street.”

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