Tenants union takes Simply Better Apartment Homes, a Related Companies subsidiary, to Brooklyn Housing Court

Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is

Tenants union takes Simply Better Apartment Homes, a Related Companies subsidiary, to Brooklyn Housing Court

Simply Better Apartment Homes is located in Deutsche Bank Center (formerly Time Warner Center), a Related Companies property. (nakashi/Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0 DEED)

Members of Simply Better Homes Tenants Association, a tenants union, appeared in Brooklyn Housing Court this month against Simply Better Apartment Homes (SBAH), a New York–based real estate group that’s managed by at least six Related Companies employees.

On June 17, the tenants association alleged the Related Companies subsidiary is wrongfully evicting residents from their New York properties, illegally flipping rent-stabilized apartments into market-rate flats, and retaliating against tenants who organized a legal rent strike last September. Brooklyn Eviction Defense is aiding Simply Better Homes Tenant Association in their case. 

Related built Hudson Yards and is currently behind the controversial NYCHA Fulton and Elliott-Chelsea Houses demolition plan. On SBAH’s website, no explicit relationship with Related is mentioned. But both Related and SBAH share several employees and both have offices at 60 Columbus Circle, the former Time Warner Center, a Related property where its CEO Stephen Ross personally lived until 2023.

man holding sign that reads housing is a human right
Brooklyn Eviction Defense is a tenants rights group that aids residents facing foreclosure and eviction. (Michael Premo/Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0 DEED)

Employees of Simply Better Apartment Homes include Dennis Ovale, Matthew Becker, Rosa Rodriguez-Gil, Vanessa Ortiz, Patricia Rodriguez-Figueroa, Marc Flynn, and Natasha Davis. Six of the seven staffers, according to their LinkedIns, are simultaneously employees of Related Companies.

Today, both Ovale and Becker are senior vice presidents at Related Companies; Rodriguez-Gil is vice president of operations at Related; and Flynn, Ortiz, and Davis are Related district managers. Before working for Related, Davis worked for NYCHA as a property manager for over 23 years.

Residents of buildings owned by Simply Better Apartment Homes claim that they’re being harassed and that wrongful eviction charges have been brought against them in Bronx County Civil Court and Kings County Civil Court. The law firm that Simply Better Apartment Homes uses to file these eviction claims is called Gutman, Mintz, Baker, and Sonnerfeldt, a law office based in New Hyde Park, New York.

A 2018 exposé by The New York Times found that Gutman, Mintz, Baker, and Sonnerfeldt brought over 110,000 eviction cases in just five years against tenants, many of which were living in rent-stabilized apartments. This prompted reporters to call the law firm an “eviction machine” that targets poor people who can’t afford legal representation and helps real estate companies convert rent-stabilized apartments into market-rate flats. While most of those evicted by Gutman, Mintz, Baker, and Sonnerfeldt were able to move into apartments with friends and family, some became homeless.

After the tenants union appeared in court on June 17, SBAH officials offered to withdraw the eviction cases against the rent strikers, but the tenant association countered by demanding that the case proceed. This will allow tenants to provide evidence to Brooklyn Housing Court that SBAH is illegally rent-destabilizing apartments in their portfolio, among other activities. AN has reached out to Related Companies and Simply Better Apartment Homes for comment.

181 Havemeyer Street
181 Havemeyer Street is one of Simply Better Apartment Homes’s properties. (Google Earth)

Today, Simply Better Apartment Homes owns multiple properties throughout New York and manages them through a mix of Limited Liability Companies (LLCs) registered in Wilmington, Delaware; and Albany, New York. Some of these LLCs are named NYSANDY14 WILLIAMSBURG 3 LLC and NYSANDY5 NBP27 LLC.

32 Garnet Street in Brooklyn, for instance, is a Simply Better Apartment Homes property that’s managed by NYSANDY8 BROOKLYN 4 LLC; and its landlords are Rosa Rodriguez-Gil and Natasha Davis. Other buildings in Simply Better Apartment Homes’s portfolio include 442 Lorimer Street, 181 Havemeyer Street, and 54 Maujer Street in Williamsburg, Brooklyn; and 254 Anthony Avenue, 3155 Grand Concourse, 2100 Bronx Park East, and 2140 Cruger Avenue in the Bronx; among others. Related’s Matthew Becker, Rosa Rodriguez-Gil, Natasha Davis, and Vanessa Ortiz are landlords of many of these buildings.

According to an open data site called JustFix, Simply Better Apartment Homes’s portfolio has had an estimated net gain of 425 rent stabilized units since 2007. This means it successfully converted 609 rent-stabilized homes throughout New York into market-rate flats, a number that marks 13.3 percent of Simply Better Apartment Homes’s total portfolio. At one Bronx building alone, 275 East 201st Street, a total of 59 units have been rent-destabilized in the past ten years.

2100 Bronx Park East exterior
2100 Bronx Park East (Google Earth)

Members of Simply Better Homes Tenant Association argue that real estate firms like Related Companies are abetted by New York politicians. Good Cause was approved by lawmakers in Albany this year, albeit with significant changes to the original version.

But still, rent-stabilized apartments in New York are under threat thanks to loopholes that allow landlords to demolish and replace them with new market-rate units.

Today, organizers from Brooklyn Eviction Defense and Crown Heights Eviction Defense are challenging these loopholes in protests and at the policy level.

Correction: A previous version of this article stated Patricia Rodriguez-Figueroa worked for Fairstead. This is incorrect. Rodriguez-Figueroa stopped working for Fairstead on July 26, 2021. The article was amended on June 25 to reflect this.