By Ian Swanson and Susan Crabtree - 07/31/10 04:28 PM EDT
Rep. Charlie Rangel’s (D-N.Y.) landlord gave him special treatment as it looked to evict other tenants of a Harlem apartment complex, according to a House ethics committee.
Documents released by the ethics investigative panel that concluded Rangel broke House rules state the Olnick Organization, a property developer in New York City that owned the Lenox Terrace complex, knew Rangel was using a rent-controlled apartment for a campaign office, but did nothing about it.
Rangel says he never asked and didn’t receive any favors and didn’t know he was on the special handling list, according to his 32-page response to the ethics panel.
The response said the list was created to identify prominent tenants to staff. Besides Rangel, New York Gov. David Paterson has an apartment in the huge complex, which stretches across several blocks.
“The list was to let them know ‘Don’t piss them off,’” according to Rangel’s statement.
Tenants pursued by Orlick, Rangel said, generally were those with illegal sublets who were trying to profit from their rent-controlled apartments.
Rangel used all four of his apartments for his own purposes, and always paid his rent, his defense notes.
The ethics panel argues that Olnick in 2004 increased the number of legal actions it brought against tenants on primary residency, including those who improperly sublet their rent-stabilized apartments.
But Olnick took no action against Rangel, even though the panel said he appears to be the only tenant using a rent-controlled apartment as something other than a primary residence.
Rangel argues Olnick always knew he was using the apartment as an office and didn’t care as long as he continued to pay the maximum allowable rent.
Actions against those subletting apartments were taken because Olnick was worried about tenants charging higher rents and pocketing the difference, Rangel states. His campaign office apartment was not an illegal sublet, and the fact that his landlord did not renew the leases of some tenants did not prove it renewed his lease because he was a member of Congress, his submission to the panel states.
A person who answered the phone at the Olnick Organization on Thursday told The Hill that the group was not handling media calls and hung up.
Rangel’s four rent-controlled apartments at the complex have been a highlight of his ethics case since The New York Times first published a story in July 2008. In addition to the 10th floor unit that is his campaign office, Rangel has turned three units into one apartment on the 16th floor of the complex.
Rent-stabilized units are prized in New York City, which boasts some of the most expensive real estate in the world. The price stability is intended to protect low- and middle-income people from being pushed out of their neighborhoods, and it is generally difficult for someone to obtain one rent-controlled unit, let alone four. Property managers generally want to reduce the number of rent-controlled units in order to charge higher rates set by the open market.
Rangel faces 13 different counts of violating House rules or federal statutes, including improperly using one of his rent-controlled apartments as a campaign office. His ethics trial is scheduled for mid-September.
The documents released by the ethics subcommittee and Rangel’s response shed new light on the fight.
In its charges against Rangel, the panel paints a picture of
a congressman who won advantages from having a rent-controlled office, and
suggests Olnick looked the other way because of Rangel’s status as a New York
political powerhouse and senior Democrat on the tax-writing Ways and Means
Rangel has lived at the Lenox Terrace since 1989, before the
real estate boom in upper Manhattan, and his defense notes that the unit that
became the Rangel for Congress office lacked air-conditioning, was un-renovated
and had been vacant for months before he and his wife moved in.
When he began leasing the unit that became his primary campaign office in 1996, the Lenox Terrace complex had a 20 percent vacancy race and cash-flow problems, Rangel states. Ability to pay was the only condition of living there.
According to the panel, Rangel’s constituents complained to his office about Olnick’s actions and contemplated a strike. The documents say Rangel’s office, including District Director James Capel, worked with Lenox Terrace management to resolve the issues. At one point, Capel met with a Lenox Terrace official about a possible strike that was under consideration by Lenox Terrace residents, the panel said.
Rangel asserts that the panel is trying to hint that he looked to help Lenox with its problems with tenants. He said his district director only worked with Lenox with one tenant, who Capel declined to help because the tenant clearly had an illegal sublet.
The ethics panel stated that Rangel signed an application that indicated his son Steven would occupy the unit that became his campaign office. Steven Rangel never lived in the rent-stabilized apartment, despite language in the lease that said it was to be used for “living purposes only,” according to the ethics panel.
Rangel argues his son considered renting as a studio one of Rangel’s apartments on the third floor, and that an application to do so was mislabeled as the campaign office apartment. He said he did not misrepresent the application and repeatedly contended Olnick always knew the 10th floor apartment was a campaign office.