Tuesday, January 27, 2009

NYC: Landlord refuses to renew lease of tenant complaining on Internet (or was it other things?): setting an example? a new wrinkle on "reputation"?


Since about 2005, the media has reported problems with employers checking personal online activity of applicants (a few scattered incidents go back as far as 1999), but what about landlords? This problems seems to be contagious.

Anne Barnard has a story in the Monday (Jan. 26, 2009) New York Times, Business Section, “After Griping Online, a Tenant Is Made to Move,” and the online title is “Tenants Encouraged to Socialize, but Not Criticize,” link here.

The landlord is Rockrose Development Corporation, which reported has over 6000 rental units in New York City. A tenant (and his wife) in the “EastCoast” development in Queens, a luxury tower, was denied renewal of a lease. An employee reported to the press that one reason was comments critical of the landlord on the Internet. But this criticism was in a supposedly private group (comparable to a social networking group with privacy settings turned on) by invitation only, but, as so often, the digital content leaked out. Other spokespersons reported that the tenant was irritating in other ways and tended to downplay the Internet issue but apparently didn’t deny it completely.

The more obvious scenario would be a public blog (like this one) which the landlord finds. I’m not talking about defamation, just legitimate criticism. Likewise, as with employers, a landlord or any business could fear that any person who was “sharp-edged” on the Web without obvious accountability could have an inclination to report complaints at some unspecified time in the future (the old “propensity” issue that we know so well now). This is getting to sound like more a social values issue – the relative importance of free speech and free flow of information v. social, business and familial loyalties in a necessarily imperfect world. We’ve never had this level of this kind of tension in our social and business fabric before, affecting the “common person.”

As for lease renewal, it’s not uncommon for many apartments not to renew leases and allow tenants to remain month-to-month. This happened several times in my own life, and the legal right to raise rents was never abused.

The article says that tenants in rent-controlled apartments in New York City are protected from landlord retaliation for speech, but non-controlled landlords may do as they please, legally. An attorney called the landlord’s behavior here “obnoxious but legal.” Many other cities do not have significant rent control, and landlords would be free to do as they wish in most cases.

The “East Coast” property has a website and QueensWest community forum that actually mentions a filming of an episode of the CWTV show “Gossip Girl”. This is ironic.

I lived in the Cast Iron Building in New York City on 11st St (across the street from where the United Chess Federation had been housed until the late 1960s) from 1974 to early 1979. It is now a condo or coop (purchase), but at the time it was a rental, quite fancy after renovation, managed by Rockrose, quite convenient on foot to “both” Villages. It’s only fair to say (for the record, since I wrote this posting and have this “coincidence”) that I never experienced any problems with the company, and it allowed me to break the lease without penalty when I took a new job in Dallas in January 1979.

Picture: Cast Iron Building, Nov. 2004 (on a visit to NYC)

I checked today on the rebuilding of Freedom Tower and One World Trade Center, and the latest update seems to be here. I visited the 9/11 site in late October 2001 and again in 2004. I hope to get in another visit by Amtrak soon.

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