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Intercom and/or Key Fob issues

NYC Rent Regulation: Rent Control/Rent Stabilized, DHCR Practice/Procedures

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Intercom and/or Key Fob issues

Postby Mr_Buzzer » Thu May 30, 2019 5:37 am

My problem is the building in which I reside is (once again)* changing intercom systems to one that requires a phone. Preferably a smart-phone, but we're told it will work with any phone, even a "legacy, 'POTS' landline".

For several reasons, I'm not a smart-phone person. Among them is cost, as I'm retired, disabled, and living on an extremely limited fixed income. Another is the area I live in has had frequent power outages, and when they occur my POTS landline still functions.

Having the intercom system calling my phone is NOT acceptable, as I have an answering machine, which is an absolute necessity, due to near-continuous calls from telemarketers, scammers, robo-callers, Etc. There are also several privacy issues I won't bother going into.

As such, I refuse to let building management program my phone number into the new system.

The sales and service company for the new system is Academy Intercom (a/k/a Academy Mailbox). Although, I don't know which make and model or any other details of whatever is being installed, so I cannot research the veracity of what I'm being told.

There is also talk of adding a Key-Fob requirement in the not-too-distant future.

The system that was in place when I moved in consisted of a panel just inside the apartment entrance.

It was replaced by a system that connected directly to your phone line via a basement-located box, and behaved much like call-waiting, which created problems for me.

Pre-Co-Op, as I had never signed a permission authorization, after speaking to a lawyer, the landlord agreed to remove the connection to my phone line, and using a pair of still-in-place wires from the original in-apt panel, connected me to the system via an old rotary wall-phone they installed. This has worked fine up to present, including after a third system replacement went in around 2010. I'm told this new, new, new system that's going in is not compatible with my existing accommodation.

*This will now be the fourth time in several decades that the intercom system is again being replaced, for no apparent reason.

I don't know what the current state of the law regarding apt. intercoms is. But surely it cannot require a tenant to have phone service to have a working intercom, especially when a perfectly functional intercom system was already in place, can it?

I am somewhat familiar with Multiple Dwelling Law § 50-a. But, from my limited understanding, it doesn't specifically address my issue.

Some background details:

• My building is in Queens and has around 50 apartments.
• It was built before 1938.
• It receives a J51 tax abatement.
• I have a DRIE rent freeze.
• I'm one of about four remaining Rent Control tenants.
• I have been a tenant in continuous residence for just short of 50 years (since 1970).
• The building went Co-Op sometime in the mid to late '80s, with a non-eviction plan.
• The majority of tenants are shareholders.
• My Landlord remains the same as when I moved in, was the Plan Sponsor, but no longer controls the Co-Op board.

Any advice anyone can offer would be appreciated.

Thanks in advance!
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Re: Intercom and/or Key Fob issues

Postby TenantNet » Thu May 30, 2019 6:12 am

I haven't read through this entire post - will do so later. But we moved this to the Rent Regulated forum. Also I have seen a new report in the last few weeks about apartment intercoms and smartphone apps. I'll see if I can find that.

But questions:
- did the LL file for a modification of services prior to making the change?
- did tenants file a complaint with DHCR?
- did tenants file complaint with HPD under NYC Admin Code 27-2005 or Multiple Dwelling Law 50-a that requires an intercom?
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Re: Intercom and/or Key Fob issues

Postby Mr_Buzzer » Thu May 30, 2019 8:12 am

But questions:

- did the LL file for a modification of services prior to making the change?


Knowing the parties involved, I suspect they would claim there was no actual change in service, as there will still be an intercom system. Of course, this ignores that it transfers responsibility to me to maintain equipment capable of receiving intercom communications.

In any case, I haven't received notice if he did. I wouldn't even know how to check. Exactly who would this be filed with? DHCR?

This raises a jurisdictional question: Does the LL or the Co-Op board have to file, or both?

It's the Co-Op board that ordered the new system installed. Short of a court order, my LL would have left the old system in place until it could no longer be repaired.

Further, my LL claims the Co-Op often does things without notifying him, or so he says.

Just to give you a sense, the DoF claimed they were double-dipping, as both tried to claim various tax abatements. Similar nonsense occurs with various repairs, with each claiming it's the other one's responsibility. Only after 311 sends an inspector (I assume from HPD) does anything happen. Even then, all parties drag their feet.

- did tenants file a complaint with DHCR?


Thus far, I haven't. Experience shows that filing before an actual service reduction occurs gets ignored. (The old system still functions for the next two days, as the cutover is June 1st).

I don't know about the other remaining Rent Control tenants. With myself being the exception, the others are generally too afraid of retaliation and harassment, and won't even discuss most tenant-LL matters.

- did tenants file complaint with HPD under NYC Admin Code 27-2005 or Multiple Dwelling Law 50-a that requires an intercom?


Again, as per my above answer, I haven't, and I'm sure no one else has. I'm not familiar with NYC Admin Code 27-2005, but will look it up.

However, as I stated in my previous post, I am somewhat familiar with Multiple Dwelling Law § 50-a. Which, as I read it, only says that an intercom needs to be installed if a majority of the tenants request it. It does not spell out the contours of that requirement. Unless there's some case law on the topic (?), it leaves the specifics open to interpretation.
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Re: Intercom and/or Key Fob issues

Postby TenantNet » Sun Jun 02, 2019 4:57 am

Early on you said your POTS line still works in a power outage. Historically that's been the case as the power came from the line itself. But as technology changes, so to does that. First is that perhaps most of the phones on the market these days need external power in that they have features not found on the old reliable black rotary phones. Not sure, but it might be that the phone company might no longer allow the rotary scheme to make calls. That would count the clicks to determine which number/digit you had entered. If you use the original phone company, Verizon, they might allow legacy rotary usage, but understand they are doing their best to discourage its use. While Verizon, might still have the old two-wire system in place in some buildings, for the most part it too is now a cable company. For more, see https://www.quora.com/Does-an-old-rotar ... technology

Second, cable companies are the new phone companies, i.e., Time Warner, RCN, and others. They don't have the legacy phone infrastructure that Verizon has. Anything they have comes through coax cable. And to make that work, you need a phone modem. And to make the modem work, you need external power.

So I understand that some who are resistant to tech change still prefer POTS, I don't know how much longer you can hold out.

Still, all that has little to do with your original question.
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Re: Intercom and/or Key Fob issues

Postby TenantNet » Sun Jun 02, 2019 5:16 am

Reading through all the above, but just wondering... you said you were disabled. Is the disability related (or potentially related) to your ability to use a newer system? Perhaps a hearing issue, or the inability to use fingers to operate the new device? I ask because the Americans with Disability Act (ADA) sometimes requires owners to provide a "reasonable accommodation" to the disabled. You often see that in a wheelchair ramp or lift. I can't say this would apply, but consider it.

And you say they might be considering a Key-Fob system for entry. Same thing might apply, but it's my understanding that the courts have generally allowed LLs to install such systems as an alternative to keys.
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Re: Intercom and/or Key Fob issues

Postby TenantNet » Mon Jun 03, 2019 1:08 pm

Not to leave you hanging, I have found a number of cases on this topic. Results vary.

However, I need to FOIL the actual decisions. I have requested some and will do the rest soon, I hope.

When I get them, I will either post them here or email them to you.
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Re: Intercom and/or Key Fob issues

Postby Mr_Buzzer » Tue Jun 04, 2019 6:33 am

Hi,

Thanks for your considered replies.

I'm going to address your replies in two (or three) posts, so as to keep my primary issues on-topic.

June 1st has come and gone, and for reasons building management declines to discuss, there's a delay in cutting over to the new intercom system.

To recap, the new intercom system requires you to receive notice of visitors/deliveries via your phone. Which, for several reasons, is not an acceptable option for me.

I contacted my LL (which is not the same as building management, which is controlled by the Co-Op board), and was told to take my issue up with the Co-Op.

Per your first (May 30) response, I examined NYC Admin Code 27-2005. The word "intercom" appears nowhere in the text. It mentions only "heat, hot water, cold water, gas or electricity service".

The paragraph defining "owner", for a non-lawyer, seems borderline impossible to parse. (That may just be me, as some of the meds I take can seriously interfere with cognitive function). As regards my building, I can't make heads or tails from it.

From what I can tell, my LL has a de minimis, non-controlling interest in the property, and no seats on the board.

Presently, it seems my LL only holds shares for the remaining four* Rent Controlled apartments. The shares for the other 46 or so apartments are mostly held by those that reside in them.

Note that shareholder tenants (especially board members) avoid contact with the leftover RC tenants. So getting answers can be extremely difficult. The other remaining RC tenants are also reluctant to discuss matters. I've managed to glean that two of them may be in "exit negotiations", but I haven't been able to confirm that.

Regardless of whatever codified (or case law) requirements may or may not exist for building intercom systems, who responsibility ultimately rests with is the first issue I must deal with. Thus leaving me with jurisdictional questions, one of which I previously asked, but you didn't respond to:

1a) Assuming a "change of service" notice or other filing requirement even applies to the intercom, who is responsible for filing said notice? My LL, or the Co-Op, or both?

1b) What agency or agencies is/are the responsible party or parties required to file with?

2) The related jurisdictional question is, do I file any complaints against my LL, or the Co-Op, or both?

As both the LL and the Co-Op each says I must take it up with the other, this must be my starting point.

*Possibly down to three RC apts, including mine.
Last edited by Mr_Buzzer on Tue Jun 04, 2019 6:40 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Intercom and/or Key Fob issues

Postby Mr_Buzzer » Tue Jun 04, 2019 6:34 am

With regard to phone service during a power outage, I get that Verizon is trying to dump its legacy POTS service. However, my area is one which is still not served by FIOS. (The City Council is still arguing with Verizon over the language in the franchise agreement, as to whether they've fulfilled their responsibility). It appears Verizon is looking to sell its entire landline business.

It's my understanding that in 2018 the PSC had told Verizon that until and unless an area is fully served by fiber or equivalent means, it cannot abandon its legacy copper network. If I remember correctly, Verizon asked the FCC for a waiver of the state's order. I have no idea what the present status of that request is, or of any possible sale.

As regards the rotary wall-phone I mentioned, it's not my phone. It's strictly a phone the LL had installed for intercom use, when the original wall-panel intercom was deactivated. And yes, it did not work during power outages. If the issue was solely a matter of rotary versus push button, it wouldn't be a problem, as a push button model could easily be substituted.

The first replacement intercom system was from a Canadian company; The Viscount Communications "Enterphone 2000", described as:

The original "no phone bill" building entry control system. It is distinct from other telephone entry systems in its ability to tie into a building's internal phone wiring, thereby bypassing monthly telephone charges. It also does not require tenants to pay for an individual phone line to operate the system and is not affected by interruptions in telephone company service.


Here's the PDF brochure. The second replacement system looked and behaved identically, but I vaguely remember a different company name. Although, it may only have been a change in corporate ownership.

To be clear, the rotary phone for intercom use was installed after my then-attorney complained to the U.S. Attorney's office, pointing out that my LL did not have written authorization to connect to my line. I was told by counsel that a call from the U.S. Attorney's office to the LL settled the matter in under a minute. This happened well before the building went Co-Op in the mid to late '80s.

The new system from Academy does not physically connect to any tenant or TelCo-owned equipment, so the previous legal bludgeon is unavailable.

I have been trying to find out the technical specs for the new system, so I can ascertain if physically connecting a phone to the system is even possible. For the moment, as with building management, Academy won't talk to me, as I'm not their customer.

Regardless, I'm not resistant to changes in technology per-se. I'm resistant to unilateral changes that I did not agree to, and that transfers responsibility to me for maintaining, at my expense, a means of receiving communication from the building's intercom system.

As to power issues, I am aware of the requirements of newer telecom devices. During a storm, when the copper phone lines were flooded out, Verizon temporarily connected the phones in my apartment to one of their VoiceLink terminals. HuffPo and ARS Technica have some informative articles on this half-ass, cellular-like substitute for wireline service. (Protip: If you also have concurrent power outages, buy your AA batteries in bulk!)

Verizon tried to permanently stick me with one of their VoiceLink terminals. However, it doesn't work with anything that uses a fax protocol, as does medical monitoring devices I use. (Another reason having the intercom call my phone is unacceptable). In any case, Verizon changed their tune once the PSC got involved.

As to the ADA, as regards my particular circumstances, a preliminary inquiry to an attorney who specializes in ADA matters, and has previously assisted me, says the issue isn't yet "ripe", if ever.

On the issue of Key Fobs, I found an article at the NY Post that may prove useful to others:

Hell's Kitchen tenants win battle to use keys instead of high-tech entry system

And two reports from WCBS-TV on Youtube:

Key Fob Fight in Upper Manhattan
(Above story as text on WCBS website: https://cbsloc.al/2QEQP7j)

Hells Kitchen Residents File Lawsuit Against Landlords Over Keyless Entry
(Above story as text on WCBS website: https://cbsloc.al/2vSHorX)

Unfortunately, as a lone complainant, the above legal remedy may not be available to me.
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Re: Intercom and/or Key Fob issues

Postby Mr_Buzzer » Tue Jun 04, 2019 6:35 am

Not to leave you handing, I have found a number of cases on this topic. Results vary.

However, I need to FOIL the actual decisions. I have requested some and will do the rest soon, I hope.

When I get them, I will either post them here or email them to you.


Much thanks for your effort! It's sincerely appreciated. I'll take any help I can get.

In the past, having made FOIL requests to DHCR, I know getting a response can take awhile. (And that response isn't always useful — I've been told a subpoena is required to get a rent history).

Just curious, do you have a best guess on a response time-frame?
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Re: Intercom and/or Key Fob issues

Postby TenantNet » Tue Jun 04, 2019 7:58 am

I might be able to get through all these by August. Let's try to keep things short. Thanks.

We're dealing with the intercom issue, not the coop-who-is-the-LL-issue. You pay rent to your LL, so he's the one you deal with. You file complaints with DHCR. To be honest, I don't know how DHCR treats situations of building-wide service reductions in condo/coop buildings. Try calling them.
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Re: Intercom and/or Key Fob issues

Postby TenantNet » Tue Jun 04, 2019 8:12 am

The DHCR FOIL office is like any bureaucracy. The wheels don't turn as fast as you would like. But to be honest, they are better than HPD or DOB, for example. I've had the FOIL office respond in as little as two days. But in other instances, it might take a month or more. Depends on the document you are requesting, and their current level of staffing.

You DO NOT need a subpoena to get a rent history. Who told you that bullshit?

Just Google "DHCR rent history" or try https://crumiller.com/how-to-get-your-d ... t-history/
or https://portal.hcr.ny.gov/app/ask

But Rent Control units don't have a rent history in the same way that RS units do. There is no annual registration for RC units. You have to look at the combination of MBR, MCR and any fuel surcharge.
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Re: Intercom and/or Key Fob issues

Postby Mr_Buzzer » Tue Jun 04, 2019 9:55 am

You DO NOT need a subpoena to get a rent history.


I know that now, but didn't back when I made the request, more than a decade ago.

Who told you that bullshit?


It was literally a form letter response from DHCR.

At the time, a mysterious retroactive charge started appearing on my monthly rent invoice. When I would inquire as to what it was for, as I had received no notice* from anyone, the LL's agent would just hang up on me.

I then called DHCR, who told me I needed to make a FOIL request for my apartment's rent history. The response to that request said they needed a subpoena to release that info. (And yes, I'm RC, not RS).

Subsequently, a lawyer at one of the indigent legal services groups got it straightened out.

*At the time, I did not think this was unusual, as my LL frequently sent notices to the wrong tenant. Several of us came to believe this was a deliberate tactic to give him the cover of plausible deniability.
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Re: Intercom and/or Key Fob issues

Postby TenantNet » Tue Jun 18, 2019 9:09 am

Getting back to this, much of the discussion above has dwelled on issues that IMHO aren't pertinent here, i.e., who is the LL, and POTS issues.

The city requires LLs to supply an intercom. That's it. If it had been previously provided, as per RS/RC rules, they can't remove it. It's a required and essential service. Getting the majority of the tenants to request it is immaterial.

I'm going to post some material, but I haven't read all of it, so please don't ask me to explain it all. Also, I have no information if any of these have been appealed, and if so, what was the result.

I'm placing these in a separate thread, Intercom Issues, in the Reference section.
Go to http://tenant.net/phpBB3/viewtopic.php?f=15&t=13761

More to come.
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Re: Intercom and/or Key Fob issues

Postby TenantNet » Tue Jun 18, 2019 2:49 pm

I noticed some of the files have been downloaded. There will be more as I find time to upload them.

Also, some of the FOIL requests with DHCR are still pending. We have requested the following decisions:

  • Tramutola: UE410036RT (11/3/06)
  • 405 & 465 W. 23rd St./410 & 470 W. 24th St.: PJ430053RT (2/2/04)
  • Electro Concourse Associates: DT630042RO (3/9/16)
  • 561 Lenox Avenue LLC: FP430032RO (3/3/18)
  • CF E 86 LLC, SME E 86 LLC, LSG E 86 LLC/CSFM E 86 Manager LLC: GP410010RO (1/24/19)
  • 175 West 95th Owner, LLC: EV410008RO (6/28/17)
  • E&M Bronx Associates, LLC: CV610003RO (4/7/17)
  • GLS 8630 LLC: DO210017RO (6/9/16)

So until I say here that I'm done, expect more. :)
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Re: Intercom and/or Key Fob issues

Postby Mr_Buzzer » Wed Jun 19, 2019 4:31 pm

Hi, and thanks again for your efforts.

I noticed some of the files have been downloaded.


Yes, I had downloaded the three PDFs you posted yesterday. I've looked through them, but haven't fully digested the implications as it applies to my situation.

I'll download and examine the 7 you've added so far, and any additional docs as they become available.

To be honest, I don't know how DHCR treats situations of building-wide service reductions in condo/coop buildings. Try calling them.


Per your suggestion, I tried calling DHCR. Unfortunately, you can no longer get a human being on the line at their 718-739-6400 number. It's become strictly an automated phone-menu system. The intro message says if you want to talk to a live rep' you must come into a borough rent office. If you call 311, they just transfer you to the above number. It also tells you your other option is to use their new website:

https://rent.hcr.ny.gov/

This is also a menu-driven Q&A system, designed for a narrow range of issues, and is only marginally better than the phone option.

To briefly update, for unexplained reasons, the old intercom system continues to function, as the building has yet to cut over to the new system. Questions to building management, as to the delay, remain unanswered.

Of possible interest to other DRIE recipients:

I spoke with someone at the DoF's DRIE office, who seemed highly familiar with RC issues and DHCR rulings and procedures. They tell me that the most likely resolution would be a rent reduction. This seems to align with what I've read in those first three PDFs you uploaded.

However, any rent reduction accrues to the DRIE program, and does not change what a DRIE beneficiary actually pays to the LL. The DoF will adjust the TAC (Tax Adjustment Credit) amount given to the LL, to "capture the reduction".

I recognize this may just be an attempt to discourage me from filing a complaint. But it seems more than plausible, given how most Govt. assistance programs work.

Nonetheless, a rent reduction, regardless of who it accrues to, doesn't really help my situation. So I'm still looking for alternatives.

The DRIE rep' also pointed out that I can't file anything until my existing intercom actually stops working (which I already knew). At which point I must notify the LL in writing, a minimum of 10 days before I file any complaints with DHCR. This also aligns with what's on the above-linked website.
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