Update: On March 26, 2021, the plaintiffs (four Roberts tenants and the Tenants Association) and the defendant (Blackstone) were to engage in oral arguments on whether the state’s new rent laws (Housing Stability and Tenant Protection Act of 2019) supersede the city’s regulatory agreement with Blackstone allowing for deregulation of the J-51 units. That morning Justice Barry Ostrager of the New York State Supreme Court realized he had a conflict.
Background: Concerned that Blackstone would start to remove thousands of our apartments from the protections of rent stabilization and not abide by the state housing law of 2019, the TA and tenant plaintiffs filed a motion for declaratory judgment in State Supreme Court on March 4, 2020. The next day we announced this in a press conference held on 16th Street and First Avenue, where we were joined by many elected officials and neighbors. The J-51 tax break would expire on June 30, 2020. The affected tenants were plaintiffs in the Roberts v. Tishman Speyer case that restored all our apartments to rent stabilization.
Reviewing briefs and documents of our case, the judge realized for the first time that the defendant, BPP LLC, was Blackstone. The name Blackstone had never come up in any of the documents. Prior to becoming a judge, Ostrager had been a partner for many years in the firm Simpson Thacher & Bartlett LLP and had worked extensively for Blackstone.
Realizing the conflict, he sent a Court Notice offering recusal. Although the judge thought he could be fair, on extensive discussion with our attorneys at Collins, Dobkin & Miller, the plaintiffs and the TA’s board of directors decided to accept the judge’s offer to recuse, which Justice Ostrager acknowledged. As a result, the case will be turned over to a new judge.
We want to note that given the extensive ties between the judge’s former law firm and the Blackstone group, we were disappointed that counsel for the defendants did not independently bring this potential conflict to the judge’s attention when this action was first assigned over a year ago. It might have spared any delay that may now result from a transfer to a new justice.
The Tenants Association will keep you updated on developments. More information about the case, including an FAQ, is on our website.