Kuzmich v. 50 Murray St. Acquisition LLC

Citation108 N.Y.S.3d 431,34 N.Y.3d 84,132 N.E.3d 624
Decision Date25 June 2019
Docket NumberNo. 50, No. 51 ,50, No. 51
Parties John KUZMICH, et al., Appellants, v. 50 MURRAY STREET ACQUISITION LLC, Respondent. William T. West, et al., Appellants, v. B.C.R.E.—90 West Street, LLC, Respondent, Lee Rosen, Defendant.
CourtNew York Court of Appeals
OPINION OF THE COURT

STEIN, J.

The question presented on these appeals is whether plaintiffs' apartments, which are located in buildings receiving tax benefits pursuant to Real Property Tax Law (RPTL) § 421–g, are subject to the luxury deregulation provisions of the Rent Stabilization Law (RSL) (see generally Rent Stabilization Law of 1969 [Administrative Code of City of New York § 26–504.1] ). We conclude that they are not and, therefore, reverse.

I.

In each of these cases, plaintiffs are individual tenants of rented apartments located in lower Manhattan, which are owned by defendants, 50 Murray Street Acquisition LLC or B.C.R.E. – 90 West Street, LLC.1 Defendants have received certain tax benefits pursuant to section 421–g of the RPTL in connection with the conversion of their buildings from office space to residential use. In these actions, plaintiffs seek, among other things, a declaration that their apartments are subject to rent stabilization. Plaintiffs allege that defendants failed to treat the apartments as rent stabilized even though the receipt of benefits under RPTL 421–g is expressly conditioned upon the regulation of rents in the subject buildings. Defendants maintain that plaintiffs' apartments are exempt from rent regulation under the luxury deregulation provisions added to the RSL as part of the Rent Regulation Reform Act of 1993.2

Supreme Court, in separate orders penned by two different Justices, denied defendants' motions for summary judgment and granted plaintiffs' cross-motions declaring that the apartments are subject to rent stabilization. Both Justices reasoned that RPTL 421–g (6) unambiguously states that, with only one express exception not applicable here, any provisions of the RSL that limit the applicability of rent stabilization—including the luxury deregulation provisions—do not apply to buildings receiving section 421–g tax benefits.

The Appellate Division separately reversed both orders and granted defendants' motions for summary judgment to the extent of declaring that plaintiffs' apartments were properly deregulated and are not subject to rent stabilization ( 157 A.D.3d 556, 69 N.Y.S.3d 627 [1st Dept. 2018] ; 161 A.D.3d 566, 78 N.Y.S.3d 96 [1st Dept. 2018] ). The Appellate Division held that the luxury deregulation provisions of the RSL apply to apartments in buildings receiving tax benefits under RPTL 421–g because, in the Court's view, section 421–g did "not create another exemption" to luxury deregulation. The Court noted that, under its holding that "421–g buildings are subject to luxury ... decontrol, ... most, if not all, apartments in buildings receiving 421–g benefits would, in fact, never be rent-stabilized, because the initial monthly rents of virtually all such apartments were set, as here, at or above the deregulation threshold" ( 157 A.D.3d at 557, 69 N.Y.S.3d 627 ). Although the Court acknowledged that "courts should construe statutes to avoid objectionable, unreasonable or absurd consequences," it nevertheless concluded that the legislature intended for RPTL 421–g (6) to essentially nullify itself ( id. [internal quotation marks and citation omitted] ).

The Appellate Division granted plaintiffs leave to appeal to this Court, certifying the question of whether the orders of reversal were properly made.

II.

Plaintiffs argue that the plain language of RPTL 421–g (6) makes clear that any provisions of the RSL that would otherwise operate to exempt apartments from rent regulation, apart from those provisions exempting cooperatives and condominiums, do not apply to buildings receiving section 421–g tax benefits. Under plaintiffs' reading of the statute, luxury deregulation does not apply to apartments in such buildings during the time period in which section 421–g tax benefits are extended. For their part, defendants maintain that section 421–g renders the relevant dwelling units subject to the entire scheme of the RSL, including the luxury deregulation provisions which do not include a carve-out for buildings receiving section 421–g benefits.

In 1995, the legislature enacted section 421–g of the RPTL as part of a broad effort to revitalize lower Manhattan by providing financial incentives to convert commercial office buildings to residential and mixed-use buildings (see L 1995, ch 4). To that end, the statute provides real property tax exemption and abatement benefits when a nonresidential building is converted to residential use. RPTL 421–g (6) states, in pertinent part that,

"[n]otwithstanding the provisions of any local law for the stabilization of rents in multiple dwellings or the emergency tenant protection act of [1974], the rents of each dwelling unit in an eligible multiple dwelling shall be fully subject to control under such local law, unless exempt under such local law from control by reason of the cooperative or condominium status of the dwelling unit, for the entire period for which the eligible multiple dwelling is receiving benefits pursuant to this section."3

That subdivision further directs that, after section 421–g benefits terminate,

"such rents shall continue to be subject to such control, except that such rents that would not have been subject to such control but for this subdivision, shall be decontrolled if the landlord has included in each lease and renewal thereof for such unit for the tenant in residence at the time of such decontrol a notice in at least twelve point type informing such tenant that the unit shall become subject to such decontrol upon the expiration of benefits pursuant to this section" ( RPTL 421–g [6 ] ).

"[W]hen presented with a question of statutory interpretation, our primary consideration is to ascertain and give effect to the intention of the [l]egislature" ( Samiento v. World Yacht Inc., 10 N.Y.3d 70, 77–78, 854 N.Y.S.2d 83, 883 N.E.2d 990 [2008], quoting Matter of DaimlerChrysler Corp. v. Spitzer , 7 N.Y.3d 653, 660, 827 N.Y.S.2d 88, 860 N.E.2d 705 [2006] ). Inasmuch as "the clearest indicator of legislative intent is the statutory text, the starting point in any case of interpretation must always be the language itself, giving effect to the plain meaning thereof" ( Majewski v. Broadalbin–Perth Cent. School Dist., 91 N.Y.2d 577, 583, 673 N.Y.S.2d 966, 696 N.E.2d 978 [1998] ; see Matter of Avella v. City of New York , 29 N.Y.3d 425, 434, 58 N.Y.S.3d 236, 80 N.E.3d 982 [2017] ). As we have repeatedly explained, "courts should construe unambiguous language to give effect to its plain meaning" ( Matter of DaimlerChrysler Corp., 7 N.Y.3d at 660, 827 N.Y.S.2d 88, 860 N.E.2d 705 ). "Absent ambiguity the courts may not resort to rules of construction to [alter] the scope and application of a statute" because no such rule "gives the court discretion to declare the intent of the law when the words are unequivocal" ( Bender v. Jamaica Hosp., 40 N.Y.2d 560, 562, 388 N.Y.S.2d 269, 356 N.E.2d 1228 [1976] ; see also McKinney's Cons Laws of NY, Statutes § 94, Comment ["(t)he Legislature is presumed to mean what it says"] ).4

The legislature's intention, as reflected in the language of the statute at issue here, is clear and inescapable. During "the entire period for which the eligible multiple dwelling is receiving" RPTL 421–g benefits, it "shall be fully subject to control " under the RSL, "notwithstanding the provisions of" that regime or any other "local law" that would remove those dwelling units from such control, "unless exempt under such local law from control by reason of the cooperative or condominium status of the dwelling unit" ( RPTL 421–g [6 ] [emphasis added] ).5 The statute does not say that eligible units shall be fully subject to "the provisions of " any local law for the stabilization of rents. Put differently, the notwithstanding clause of the statute evinces the legislature's intent that any "local law for the stabilization of rents" that would exempt the unit from "control under such local law" does not apply to buildings receiving RPTL 421–g benefits, with the sole exception being for cooperatives and condominiums (see People v. Mitchell, 15 N.Y.3d 93, 97, 905 N.Y.S.2d 115, 931 N.E.2d 84 [2010] [describing a notwithstanding clause as "the verbal formulation frequently employed for legislative directives intended to preempt any other potentially conflicting statute"] ).

Defendants' contention, adopted by the dissent, that the notwithstanding clause was intended to import into RPTL 421–g (6) the entire RSL, including those provisions that would remove the units from control, cannot be squared with the statutory language. Indeed, if accepted, defendants' proffered construction would simultaneously render superfluous both the entire notwithstanding clause and the exception for cooperatives and condominiums. We reject defendants' suggestion that we read those provisions out of the statute (see Matter of Mestecky v. City of New York , 30 N.Y.3d 239, 243, 66 N.Y.S.3d 207, 88 N.E.3d 365 [2017] ["meaning and effect should be given to every word of a statute and ... an interpretation that renders words or clauses superfluous should be rejected" (internal quotation marks and citation omitted) ] ). If the legislature intended to import the deregulation provisions of the RSL, it easily could have so stated (see Majewski, 91 N.Y.2d at 583, 673 N.Y.S.2d 966, 696 N.E.2d 978 ).

Moreover, defendants' reading of the statute fails to give effect to the language in RPTL 421–g (6) that provides a mechanism for a landlord to "decontrol" units that "would not have been subject to such control but for [that] subdivision," after section 421–g benefits have terminated. That language clearly contemplates the suspension of decontrol provisions during the...

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