Hundreds of tenants at eight Bronx and Manhattan co-op buildings are at-risk of eviction after a private equity firm announced last year that it would not renew their leases and instead sell the units.
The tenants, many of whom are low-income families or retirees, were given the option to buy their apartments, now owned by Glacier Equities or other firms, or leave.
In November 2020, Glacier purchased a collection of 255-residential unit “unsold shares” in co-operative buildings in Norwood, Fordham, Bedford Park and Spuyten Duyvil in The Bronx and Inwood in Manhattan for $23 million.
Nearly all of those unsold shares were cooperative units sublet to longtime tenants.
As the new owner of the units, Glacier Equities can legally boot tenants who’ve done nothing wrong and paid rent on time, then sell the co-op shares to individual buyers.
Wilson Z., who works as a cleaner in the city’s transit system and has lived in his McClellan Street apartment for 18 years, said he received his first 90-day notice from Glacier in May 2021, six months after the sale.
“I thought, ‘This cannot be,’” the 52-year-old, who declined to give his last name, said in an interview on Friday.
“In this building there are people with children, retirees, and people like myself who work day after day to be able to live here. And this is how we’re treated?”
The residents, housing-rights advocates and local politicians say it is a classic case of why Albany lawmakers should pass “Good Cause” eviction-protection legislation.
“We would like to see Good Cause pass so that they can’t just decide to evict them because they want to sell these apartments,” Jessica Bellinder, supervising attorney with the Legal Aid Society’s Bronx office, told THE CITY.
“That would be the best possible protection, because it would ensure that they would have a right to a lease renewal, reasonable rent increases and they would be able to potentially continue staying there.”
From Glacier’s point of view, the purchase was an investment in the building and the neighborhood.
“This portfolio was a can’t-miss opportunity to add value to emerging areas of The Bronx that still afford New Yorkers with attainable homeownership opportunities, and we are pleased to close on one of the largest Bronx deals to complete since March,” Myles Horn, who heads Glacier Equities, told Real Estate Weekly in 2020.
“We are looking to create value, renovate and reposition these assets with significant additional investment to ultimately sell beautifully redesigned homes in existing buildings within the fabric of their neighborhoods for under $500,000,” he added.
Horn didn’t mention that those “homeownership opportunities” involved potentially displacing existing tenants.
At a rally in front of one of the buildings on University Avenue Wednesday morning, tenants demanded that Glacier either let them keep renting their homes, or pay them to leave.
Supporters included local Council members Eric Dinowitz (D-Riverdale/Kingsbridge) and Pierina Sánchez (D-Morris Heights).
Sanchez also happens to be a shareholder of a Morris Avenue building in Glacier’s portfolio.
“It’s so dishonest,” she said on Monday. “What they’re truly doing is they’re preying on disinvested neighborhoods where, frankly, the government should have stepped in a long time ago to facilitate homeownership affordable to these communities, and they find these assets and they know that they’re largely deregulated, and they prey on these properties and they market it.”
Her neighbor, Vivian Smith, 71, said she was in the hospital recovering from COVID last March when she received a 90-day notice to leave the apartment she has shared with her husband since 1995.
The couple received an eviction letter on Wednesday summoning them to a virtual Bronx Housing Court hearing on March 1, Smith told THE CITY.
“We’re never late with rent, never caused trouble, and want to know why they want us out,” an emotional Smith said at the Wednesday morning rally. “We just want to stay there and finish whatever time we’ve got left.”
A spokesperson for Glacier told THE CITY that they had not heard from the Smiths in months, pointing to efforts the company had made to relocate the couple. “As long as they are communicating with us and working towards an agreement, they will not be evicted,” the spokesperson said.
Shortly after the Nov. 2020 sale, some tenants received notice that Glacier would not be renewing their leases in order to renovate and sell the units to individual buyers.
A Glacier spokesperson on Tuesday said that was their right “as was the original intent with the cooperative conversions in the 1980’s.”
A month after the sale, in December 2020, tenants at a Perry Ave. building in Norwood were handed 90-day eviction notices just days before Christmas.
“It’s kind of scary,” Joe Conzo, a longtime tenant and retired EMT who worked at Ground Zero, told the Daily News at the time. “It’s f---ing winter. There’s a f---ing pandemic going on.”
Buyouts and Relocation Assistance
Glacier recently resold the McClellan building and another property on University Avenue to Denali Management, another private equity company, following a national trend.
The Glacier Equities spokesperson claimed the firm is not evicting tenants who are “directly communicating and in active discussions with us about relocation or purchasing” or those who are currently paying rent.
But court records show there are open eviction proceedings in Bronx Housing Court against 28 tenants in four of the buildings, nearly half of them in a building on Briggs Avenue.
There are also a number of tenants who have accepted buyout offers from Glacier Equities for unspecified amounts, bound by non-disclosure agreements, according to Joshua Stephenson, the executive director of West Bronx Housing and Neighborhood Resource Center, which has been helping the tenants.
The Glacier spokesperson added that over the past year, the company has provided tenants with “relocation assistance, extended leases with zero rent increases, waived hundreds of thousands of dollars in rent owed, and most importantly, has offered every tenant and their families the opportunity to buy their own apartments at insider discounted prices.”
More than 10 are in contract already, the spokesperson added.
“We are investing significant funds to restore and improve these buildings to make them available for their intended purpose: homeownership for the local community,” the statement read.
Glacier Equities is offering as little as 5% down for 2-bedroom units under the portfolio, StreetEasy listings show.
But Sánchez, the new local Council member, cried foul.
“They’re going in and they’re issuing these 90-day notices, and they’re pushing people out,” she added.
No Legal Avenues
Sánchez noted that the city is preempted by state law from intervening in matters of rent regulation, so Glacier isn’t required to do anything for the tenants.
“We can’t mandate a lease renewal, we can’t mandate any specific terms,” she said. “So we’re hamstrung, and so it becomes this effort around mitigation and changing hearts and minds where we can.”
The state Attorney General’s Office similarly has no power to intervene in matters of deregulated apartments and, because the buildings were converted in the 1980s, the tenants are not protected through statewide tenant protection reforms approved in 2019.
“Attorney General [Letitia] James remains concerned for the tenants of Glacier Equities,” Morgan Rubin, a spokesperson, said in a statement on Wednesday. “Our office encourages the developer to explore all potential resolutions to prevent the displacement of these tenants.”
City Comptroller Brad Lander, who as a Council member pushed back against a private equity firm looking to boot long-time renters in his former Park Slope district, said that while reforms in real estate investing are needed, passing Good Cause protections would be easier.
“Because if it were illegal to throw rent-paying tenants out of their homes with no reason, you wouldn’t have to reform global financial practice. We could just protect them on the front end,” he said in an interview on Monday.
Assemblymember Jeffrey Dinowitz (D - Riverdale/Kingsbridge) whose district includes many of the Glacier Equities buildings and is the local Council member’s father, is a co-sponsor of the Good Cause bill and has been working with tenants for more than a year.
“I think these cases actually show why Good Cause Eviction is something that we should be discussing,” he said in an interview on Tuesday.
Wilson Z., the McClellan Street tenant, says he has no intention of leaving the two-bedroom apartment he shares with his sister and teenage nephews, and is now battling another private equity firm that bought his unit from Glacier.
“I’m staying, and I’m going to fight until the very end.”
This article was updated on February 25 to emphasize that the cooperative units had been sublet to longtime tenants.