Harlem Tenants Win $1.1 Million Refunds in J-51 Suit

In a court settlement announced in mid-July, 400 current and former tenants at Lenox Terrace, a legendary six-building housing complex in Harlem, will receive more than $1.1 million in rent refunds to compensate for their landlord illegally deregulating apartments while receiving J-51 tax benefits.

They will also receive rent reductions as high as hundreds of dollars a month and more than $250,000 in credits against past rent due, and their apartments will be permanently rent-stabilized, according to Himmelstein, McConnell, Gribben, Donoghue & Joseph, one of two law firms that represented them.

The Downing v. Lenox Terrace class-action suit was filed in 2010, after the state Court of Appeals’ Roberts decision held that the state housing agency had wrongly allowed landlords to deregulate apartments while receiving J-51 tax breaks, which are intended to help owners repair rent-stabilized buildings. In its Regina decision last April, the Court of Appeals severely limited when tenants can get refunds or rent reductions for J-51 overcharges.

“It was so important to finally get refunds to tenants, especially at this time when so many are facing economic hardship,” Himmelstein, McConnell partner David Hershey-Webb said in a statement. “Many tenants, especially in light of Regina, will never be compensated, unless the State Legislature can repair the damage done by the court.”