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Rental Prices Dip in North Brooklyn's Older Units as Luxe Developments Soar

By Amy Zimmer | August 4, 2015 6:59pm
 Rents for new developments rise in Greenpoint and Williamsburg, but not for older units.
Willamsburg and Greenpoint real estate
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BROOKLYN — It's not hard to see that fancy North Brooklyn is only getting fancier.

New developments are adding high-end apartments to the neighborhood. That increases inventory, which has led to a modest drop in prices, particularly for older buildings lacking luxury amenities.

Landlords of those older buildings see that and look to renovate or redevelop their properties to fetch higher rents — often at the expense of pushing out long time tenants, real estate brokers and housing advocates said.

North Brooklyn — which spans Williamsburg and Greenpoint — is the most expensive rental market in Kings County, with a median asking rent of $3,100 a month, according to a recent report on second quarter data from real estate search engine StreetEasy. But that's down 3 percent from the year before.

"Over the last few years, with everything getting a lot more hip, you have a lot more landlords trying to get tenants out, and that means more inventory," said Bram Lefevere, a real estate agent with Miron Properties. "The inventory right now is tremendous."

Especially for one bedrooms.

There were 192 one-bedrooms on the market in Greenpoint this past June, up 149 percent from the year before, according to data StreetEasy compiled for DNAinfo.

For one-bedrooms in Greenpoint buildings constructed before 2010, as opposed to those considered "new developments," the median asking rent for June was $2,400 a month — a 4 percent drop from the year before. (Greenpoint did not have enough new development to calculate the year-over-year change for those units.)

For Williamsburg's one-bedrooms in June, asking rents for pre-2010 buildings fell 1.3 percent to $2,895 a month while prices for apartments built after 2010 rose 1.3 percent to $3,435 a month.

In Williamsburg, overall inventory for one-bedrooms rose to 551 in June, up 23 percent from the same time the year before.

"There is more inventory for the one-bedrooms than ever before and the prices are not climbing as fast as before," Lefevere said. "When there's more inventory, you're probably going to have that conversation about getting $100 off the rent."

As new developments come to the area — like 1133 Manhattan Ave., where a one-bedroom was asking $3,277 in May, according to StreetEasy — some house hunters' expectations have changed, noted David Kazemi, an agent with BOND New York.

"They want brand new everything, stainless steel appliances, elevator buildings," he said. "They won't look at something old unless it's extra large or has a roof deck."

Williamsburg, once home to gritty music venues like Trash Bar and Glasslands, is soon getting a Whole Foods, Apple store and Ralph Lauren. Greenpoint, which recently lost its 35-year-old pizza joint Carmine's and last year lost vinyl shop Permanent Records after a decade, now sports a Crunch gym, New York Sports Club and a venue owned by luxury car maker BMW.

Many landlords are hoping to take advantage of the wave of newcomers willing to shell out big bucks for rents by upgrading their buildings or selling to new developers — and that has made things difficult for existing tenants, particularly those who are rent-stabilized, housing advocates said.

Tenant harassment has been on the upswing, noted Marty Needleman, of Brooklyn Legal Services, whose attorneys teamed up with Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams last month to host a series of town hall meetings for displaced tenants.

Roughly 150 people showed up to last week's forum in Prospect-Lefferts Gardens, said Needleman, who plans to review the public testimony to figure out ways to combat the problem.

"We've had all kinds of horrendous situations with landlords," he said, citing a few cases he worked on recently.

On Bedford Avenue's north side, for instance, a landlord got 15 of 17 tenants out and then began a massive construction project that destabilized the building, forcing the other two out for safety reasons.

When one rent-stabilized tenant, who was paying $800 a month, returned to her apartment a year later, after the building was fixed, she found two young women from Manhattan moved into her unit, paying $3,000 a month. A housing court judge ruled that the original tenant was legal. (One of the young women later filed a lawsuit that being kicked out was detrimental to her mental health.)

Needleman worked on another case on behalf of two rent stabilized tenants on Guernsey Street in Greenpoint, where after the building was sold, the landlord got out the other four tenants before starting construction for a new building.

The remaining two tenants left on the condition that that they be paid while the new building went up and that they could return to the building as rent stabilized tenants.

Under an agreement, signed in court, the landlord put $500,000 into an account for each tenant. Each month the tenants were out of the building, they would be paid $5,000 from the account and were also entitled to the balance of the money after a year if the new building wasn't ready — which they ended up getting.

"It shows you the value of what it's worth [to landlords]," he said. "It shows you what's going on here."