With Nassau County-based developer E&M Management on the verge of purchasing the Stony Run apartment complex on Hurley Avenue in Kingston, tenant-advocacy groups held a press conference on June 6 with New York City public advocate Jumaane Williams at Lakeshore Villas, a Port Ewen property already owned and managed by E&M. They had concerns to share.
“It’s just kind of disgusting, it’s very plain, why they are now here in Ulster County and other places across the state,” said Williams. “They are predatory landlords, they are predatory owners, and they are trying to repeat their predatory plan with everything they can. To do what? To deal with their bottom line.”
Tenant advocates including Williams, members of the Kingston Tenants Union and Citizen Action, and E&M tenants both past and present gathered in front of Lakeshore Villas to discuss proposed statewide legislation geared toward ensuring landlords adequately maintain their properties.
Williams, a former candidate for lieutenant governor, dismissed the idea that the issue of tenant rights should be handled differently in the Hudson Valley than in New York City. “This is not an upstate-downstate divide,” he said. “We are all connected on this issue.” (Indeed, the following week the state legislature passed a sweeping law favoring tenants and opening the door to local rent-control laws, an issue that has been raised in Kingston.)
Among the properties also owned by E&M in the area is Sunset Garden, a 217-unit complex in the Town of Ulster. E&M Management purchased Sunset Garden and Lakeshore Villas, a 151-unit property in Port Ewen, from Morgan Communities in March 2018 for $44 million, expanding a local portfolio which also includes Kingston Waterfront and 30 Black Creek Road in Highland. According to the E&M Management website, most of their other properties are in Nassau County and Far Rockaway, a Queens neighborhood not far from their headquarters in Lawrence.
A May 17 story in The Real Deal, a real-estate media company, portrayed E&M as a developer out to capitalize on less restrictive rules for landlords by moving to the Hudson Valley. E&M reps declined to address the Real Deal piece on the record, but dismissed the notion that they were just looking to make a buck.
“We are investing in the Hudson Valley for the long-term,” said Daniel Goldstein, E&M’s managing partner, in a prepared statement. “Our commitment to Kingston and Ulster County goes beyond passive investing, which is why we are completing unfinished renovations and modernizing properties across Kingston. Our tenants will benefit from these new amenities and a streamlined process as we relocate our base of operations and management into one centralized Kingston office.”
E&M and some of its tenants have been at odds since the company took over local properties like Sunset Garden. Late last year, some tenants described a property falling into disrepair and a property owner unwilling to do anything about it. They said tenants were not having their leases renewed to put them in a more precarious position of being subject to eviction on a whim as retaliation for speaking out.
At least two tenants, Laura Hartmann and Liz Shapiro, said that was what had happened to them. They said intimidation was used as means to an end, the dismissal of residents who might be home during the day, older tenants, and those who challenged E&M. The owners, they said, hoped to replace them with potentially deep-pocketed millennials as tenants.
Ulster town supervisor James E. Quigley, III last week said that he was not convinced that E&M and the Hudson Valley will be a good fit. “I’m concerned because E&M is bringing a New York City management style into a market that’s not ready for it,” Quigley explained. “It’s just the way they treat the tenants. It’s the way they’ve had conversations with the tenants, it’s the way they’ve responded to the complaints. They’re trying, but we’re still a small town and we have a small- town mentality. We still expect people to treat us as neighbors and to be very, very receptive and open to complaints. And if you’re in a landlord-tenant relationship, you know, those complaints should be addressed. And the tenants at the project are telling me that the responses are slow, and they’re uncomfortable.”
Last November, Ulster town building inspector Kathryn Moniz said she was spending one day a week at Sunset Garden to investigate issues raised by tenants and to try to the best of her ability to ensure they were rectified by E&M. Last week, Moniz said little has changed.
“I still devote one day a week to Sunset Garden,” she said. “I have to. I go into all the common areas, I knock on doors for people that have had complaints that I’ve asked them to take care of to see if everything has been done. I’m proactive, because that’s the only way that they’re going to do anything, and even then they don’t do anything.”
Moniz said she’s been dealing with an infestation of roaches on behalf of one tenant in one Sunset Garden building since early May, but has found the property manager to be less than helpful.
“I said, ‘When you exterminate, do you exterminate all the units in that building?’ Because that’s the only way you’re going to get rid of them, and that I got from the [Ulster County] health department. And he said, ‘We can’t do that, it’s an ungodly price.’ And I said, ‘Then you’re never going to get rid of roaches in any buildings, because you have to do that.’ I reported this issue to the health department as well.”
Moniz acknowledged that a playground improperly installed by E&M last year was now usable, but she said other problems persisted. “The sewer department has had some issues,” said Moniz. “When they had their major sewer problem last year and I had to displace [tenants in] eight apartments because the sewer was going into their tubs, into their rugs, and into their apartments. There’s still so many things that need to be done.”
Menashe Shapiro of the Manhattan-based Shapiro Consulting Group and a representative of E&M said in an e-mail that the developer was committed to working in — and with — tenants in properties like Sunset Garden. “E&M responds to all maintenance requests in a timely fashion and takes all maintenance requests very seriously,” said Shapiro. “They are committed to Kingston and working with the building department and inspectors. There was a heating issue in February and E&M provided space heaters to tenants at their own — E&M’s — expense so no tenant would be cold.”
Shapiro added that the developer takes tenant privacy seriously and would not discuss eviction notices publicly, “other than to say that if there is an eviction notice, it is legal and done with just cause.” He said E&M’s policy was “to treat every single resident with dignity and respect,” said Shapiro. “There have been some recent staffing changes to guarantee that.”
Shapiro added that E&M is being proactive in its property investments, banking on economic prosperity in the community to follow. “E&M is going in to improve real estate in the distressed areas of upstate New York first, which will in turn attract the jobs and companies,” wrote Shapiro.
Shapiro said the Stony Run deal, expected to close later this month for between 25 and 30 million dollars, and will give E&M close to 1000 units in the Hudson Valley, the majority of them in Ulster County. Shapiro said that E&M planned on investing around $1.5 million toward capital improvement at 267-unit Stony Run, including new kitchens, refrigerators and stoves, new bathrooms, and repainted apartments. Shapiro added that E&M planned to pick up the deferred maintenance on the property. It will contract with a company to maintain and keep the swimming pool open, and will convert the former leasing office into a gym for residents.
E&M is hoping to become locals by moving their primary operations to Kingston, said Shapiro. The developer will honor that commitment by only hiring local laborers for the Stony Run improvements, regular maintenance, and on-site employees, he promised. “This is innovative because it demonstrates commitment to upstate, and the commitment to hire locally and to make sure that all local residents deal with an office in Kingston and not something that is managed from NYC or Long Island,” Shapiro wrote.