East Harlem Residents Claim Victory Over Real-Estate Giant

By Leticia Miranda Oct 27, 2009

East Harlem residents with Movement for Justice in El Barrio, a part of la Otra Campaña, have managed to fight off Dawnay Day, a London-based real-estate corporation that tried to take over 47 apartment buildings from low-income and immigrant renters. Dawnay Day’s profit-driven intentions were no secret. Phil Blakeley, Dawnay Day’s director, boasted publicly to The Times in London about his scheme on how he would maneuver through New York City’s real-estate loopholes to eventually lay claim to the rentals:

“A typical two-bedroom flat taking $150 per month in rent can see the rents rise 3 percent to 4 percent each year without doing anything. As soon as you take vacant possession, the rents will typically rise 17 percent when re-let without doing anything. But with renovation, a flat could well take $1,700 a month once re-let on the open market.”

Dawnay Day wasn’t just manipulating loopholes, but the residents themselves. They would send the residents, historically Puerto Rican but increasingly Mexican, Arab and Chinese, false expenses for repairs that never took place or appliances that were never provided. From the Indypendent:

Zoila Jara, a single mother of two who has lived on East 106th Street for 13 years, says the company falsely charged her for $1,495. “Dawnay Day claims that some of this is for a washer they say they gave me. The fact is I do not have and never had a washer,” she said. “On top of this, for every month that goes by that I refuse to pay, they add false late fees.”

Just this month, thousands of tenants were notified that Dawnay Day was forced to let go of some of their rentals to cover their debt. The news came on the heels of a major legal victory against the corporation. Movement for Justice in El Barrio along with Manhattan Legal Services and New York’s Community Economic Justice Resource Center pursued a consumer protection lawsuit against the corporation for charging residents with false fees and expenses. The group won in a settlement that puts an end to charging tenants illegal expenses and institutes a 3% cap on late fees for all tenants. Also, residents in the case were awarded monetary damages.