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Developer ‘SLAPPS’ tenants down

BERTHA LEWIS, President of the Black Institute | 7/17/2014, 2:04 p.m.
On July 2, in a courtroom in lower Manhattan, a frivolous lawsuit came before a judge. The lawsuit, if allowed ...

On July 2, in a courtroom in lower Manhattan, a frivolous lawsuit came before a judge. The lawsuit, if allowed to go forward, could have a chilling, detrimental effect on all Americans’ rights to address and communicate with their elected officials. It is not an overstatement to say that the case of Madison Park Development Associates vs. Judith Febraro, Gerald Magpily, Ellen Ackrish & John Doe is nothing more than an attempt to intimidate and silence American citizens. Here are the facts.

New York City developer Don Capoccia was awarded the contract to develop Madison Park Apartments, a mixed-income housing development located at 1831 Madison Ave. Completed in 2002, residents began moving in and have been plagued with serious leaks and structural problems from day one. The cooperative was built under the Department of Housing Preservation and Development’s Cornerstone Program, in partnership with New York City’s Housing Development Corporation, developed by BFC Partners, Capoccia’s company.

The structural deficiencies were so pervasive that a settlement was reached in 2006, with BFC acknowledging the problems and agreeing to remedy them. In 2010, with the problems continuing, a second engineering report was requested by the co-op shareholders. This report found that the structural deficiencies had not been corrected and, in fact, had worsened. With no further action taken on the part of Capoccia or his associates to correct the problems, the cooperative shareholders turned to their elected officials for help. Here is where the lawsuit begins.

Capoccia alleges that by contacting their elected officials and city agencies, searching for answers and help, the shareholders committed “tortious interference with Madison Park’s contractual and business relations.” Since when did exercising your constitutional rights became a reason to be sued? Apparently when a homeowner seeks help against a large, politically connected developer.

Capoccia’s lawsuit is nothing more than an attempt by such a powerful, well-connected New York City developer to silence and intimidate New York City residents. He is acting like the classic schoolyard bully, attempting to steal the little kid’s lunch money.

Capoccia has had a long, successful and very profitable business relationship with the Department of Housing Preservation and Development. He also serves as president of New York State Association for Affordable Housing, the predominant lobbying force for the affordable housing industry. So you have to ask yourself, why is he picking on these homeowners, who want nothing more than a safe, dry home?

The answer is simple. This frivolous lawsuit has already had a chilling effect in the affordable housing community. Hundreds of homeowners and tenants are nervous about continuing their efforts to resolve the widespread, long-term, systemic problems in the quality of their Housing Preservation and Development Department-built homes. If this “SLAPP” suit (a Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation) is allowed to go forward, it not only will impact New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development residents, but also it will intimidate the public from participating in the democratic process.

Bertha Lewis is president of the Black Institute.