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Aaron Carr, the group’s founder and executive director, uncovered documentation from city tax records showing that Stellar registered to receive the tax abatement, known as J-51, for a number of buildings but didn’t comply with the requirements. In one building in Inwood only 43 of the 70 units were registered as rent stabilized, when the law requires that all must be, according to the documents.

Aaron Carr of the Housing Rights Initiative, a nonprofit group whose investigation of A&E led to the lawsuit, said rent overcharges present a serious threat to the city’s affordable-housing stock. “This is about a systematic effort to remove affordable apartments from rent regulation and raise rents in violation of our city and state laws,” Mr. Carr said.

Mayor Bill de Blasio’s office said a class-action lawsuit filed this week against a development firm that has received a city tax break and allegedly overcharged tenants contains “serious allegations.”

“J-51 offenders are not only cheating on their taxes, but also robbing our city of affordable housing,” said Aaron Carr, founder of the nonprofit Housing Rights Initiative.

“Landlords, like Big City Realty, are exploiting the reactive housing enforcement policies used by the Division of Housing and Community Renewal and placing countless families at risk of rent fraud and displacement,” he said. “Until the Division of Housing and Community Renewal starts functioning as a strong enforcement agency, predatory landlords will continue to make a mockery of our legal system.”

Carr added that many tenants in Washington Heights remember a time when they knew who their landlords were — which is often no longer the case. “They would see them in the building, talking to their neighbors, watering the plants, or having a drink at the local bar,” Carr said. “Things were by no means perfect, but they were certainly more personable. Nowadays, I think a growing number of tenants are starting to realize that they no longer have a ‘landlord,’ they have investors.”

“With the help of nonprofit Housing Rights Initiative, the tenants examined rent histories dating back to 1984. Their investigation found the building had lost around 40 percent of its rent-stabilized units over the past decade.”

Aaron Carr, the founder of nonprofit Housing Rights Initiative, told The Real Deal that his organization uncovered the alleged violation and put the tenants in touch with law firm Himmelstein, McConnell, Gribben, Donoghue & Joseph.

“Aaron Carr, a former state legislative aide who recently launched the Housing Rights Initiative to help tenants research dodgy landlord actions, calls MCIs and Individual Apartment Improvements — a similar, largely unmonitored program governing rehabs that aren’t building-wide — ‘the Trojan horses of real estate,’ allowing landlords to improve their own properties under the guise of preserving affordable housing.”

Aaron Carr, Founder of Housing Rights Initiative, discussing NYC’s affordable housing crisis on Bronx Talk.

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