Rangel Rents Apartments
at Bargain Rates
By DAVID KOCIENIEWSKI
Published: July 11, 2008
While aggressive evictions are reducing
the number of rent-stabilized apartments
in New York, Representative Charles B.
Rangel is enjoying four of them,
including three adjacent units on the
16th floor overlooking Upper Manhattan
in a building owned by one of New York’s
premier real estate developers.
Mr. Rangel, the powerful Democrat who is
chairman of the House Ways and Means
Committee, uses his fourth apartment,
six floors below, as a campaign office,
despite state and city regulations that
require rent-stabilized apartments to be
used as a primary residence.
Mr. Rangel, who has a net worth of
$566,000 to $1.2 million, according to
Congressional disclosure records, paid a
total rent of $3,894 monthly in 2007 for
the four apartments at Lenox Terrace, a
1,700-unit luxury development of six
towers, with doormen, that is described
in real estate publications as Harlem’s
most prestigious address.
The current market-rate rent for similar
apartments in Mr. Rangel’s building
would total $7,465 to $8,125 a month,
according to the Web site of the owner,
the Olnick Organization.
The Olnick Organization and other real
estate firms have been accused of
overzealous tactics as they move to
evict tenants from their rent-stabilized
apartments and convert the units into
Tensions are especially inflamed in
Harlem, where the rising cost of living
and the arrival of more moneyed
residents have triggered anxiety over
the future of the historically black
neighborhood. And Vantage Properties, a
company established by Olnick’s former
chief operating officer, has attracted
billions in private equity financing by
promising investors that it can
aggressively convert tens of thousands
of rent-stabilized apartments, many in
Yet Mr. Rangel, a critic of other
landlords’ callousness, has been
uncharacteristically reticent about
State officials and city housing experts
said in interviews that while the law
does not bar tenants from having more
than one rent-stabilized apartment, they
knew of no one else with four of them.
Others suggested that the arrangement
undermines the purpose of rent
“There are families who manage to get
two, when one tenant marries another,
things like that,” said Dov Treiman, a
lawyer who publishes The Housing Court
Reporter, a legal trade publication.
“But I’ve never heard of any tenant
managing to get four.”
Mr. Rangel’s use of the fourth apartment
as an office, in addition to his
2,500-square-foot residence, was
especially troubling to some advocates,
given the city’s chronic shortage of
housing for low- and moderate-income
“Whether it’s an elected official or
not, no one should have four apartments,
especially when one is being used as an
office,” said Michael McKee, treasurer
of the Tenants Political Action
Committee, who was not aware of Mr.
Rangel’s situation when he was
Mr. Rangel, who was first elected to
Congress in 1970 and is one of the
city’s most recognizable elected
officials, has written and spoken
extensively about his devotion to his
home in Harlem, but does not appear to
have ever publicly acknowledged that he
has been permitted to lease four
rent-stabilized apartments there.
According to a public records database
and interviews with neighbors, he has
lived in the building since the early
1970s, but it is not clear when he
amassed the four units.
Mr. Rangel, 78, declined to answer
questions during a telephone interview,
saying that his housing was a private
matter that did not affect his
representation of his constituents.
“Why should I help you embarrass me?” he
said, before abruptly hanging up.
Olnick officials declined to discuss
when or why they decided to permit Mr.
Rangel to lease multiple rent-stabilized
units. Asked why he had been allowed to
use one as an office, Jeanette Bocchino,
a spokeswoman for the company, replied:
“This is a private matter for the Olnick
Organization and Mr. Rangel to
Mr. Rangel is not the only prominent
resident with a rent-stabilized
apartment at Lenox Terrace. Gov. David
A. Paterson told The New York Sun in May
that he pays $1,250 for a
rent-stabilized two-bedroom apartment in
the complex that rents for $2,600 or
more at market rates. Basil A. Paterson,
the governor’s father, pays $868 per
month for his apartment there, in the
same building as Mr. Rangel’s
apartments, according to state records.
Percy E. Sutton, the former Manhattan
borough president and a longtime ally
and friend of Mr. Rangel’s, also lives
at Lenox Terrace, though records about
his rent were not available.
Under state and city rent regulations,
tenants can continue renewing the lease
in their rent-stabilized apartments for
as long as they use it as a primary
residence, and landlords can increase
rent only by an annual percentage set by
a city board.
A spokesman for the governor said that
Governor Paterson, who owns a home in an
Albany suburb and recently moved into
the executive mansion, considered Lenox
Terrace his primary residence. A
secretary to the elder Mr. Paterson, who
owns a home on Long Island, said he
could not be immediately reached.
Luminaries are nothing new at Lenox
Terrace, a large development on 135th
Street between Fifth and Lenox Avenues.
The Olnick Organization built it in 1958
as the first luxury community in Harlem.
The family-run company has a broad
portfolio of retail, commercial and
residential buildings, and holds a
contract to lease office space to
federal agencies in Morristown, N.J.
According to Federal Election Commission
records, Mr. Rangel received $2,000 in
campaign contributions from Sylvia
Olnick, an owner of the company, in
2004. His separate political action
committee received $2,500 donations from
her in 2004 and 2006.
In addition, city records show that in
2005, a lobbyist for the Olnick
Organization met with Mr. Rangel and Mr.
Paterson, who was then the State Senate
minority leader, as the company set out
to win government approvals of a plan to
expand Lenox Terrace and build another
apartment complex in the Bronx.
Ms. Bocchino said that Mr. Rangel was
not asked to do, nor did he do, anything
for the company. A spokesman for the
governor said he also did not act on
Neither project has advanced.
Mr. Rangel’s residence, which has custom
moldings and dramatic archways, is
decorated with Benin Bronze statues and
antique carved walnut Italian chairs,
and was featured in the 2003 book “Style
and Grace: African Americans at Home,”
by Michael Henry Adams (Bulfinch Press).
The article called the home a penthouse,
although it is on the second floor from
The book does not mention that the units
are rent-stabilized, but says that the
penthouse had been assembled by
combining separate apartments. Mr.
Rangel’s wife, Alma, is quoted
describing the congressman as “the
shopper in this family” who has a
penchant for hunting down antiques like
cut-glass champagne flutes and walnut
chests to furnish their elegant abode.
The State Division of Housing and
Community Renewal does not publicly
release information about rents paid by
tenants in rent-regulated apartments.
But The New York Times obtained a copy
of the agency’s 2007 rent roll report
for Mr. Rangel’s building, which showed
that the congressman holds the leases on
Apartments 16M, 16N, 16P and 10U.
Neither Mr. Rangel nor the company would
describe the dimensions or layouts of
the apartments, but neighbors and a
doorman said the apartments included a
studio, a one-bedroom and a two-bedroom
on the 16th floor. A Times reporter
visited the 10th-floor office, a
The records showed that the congressman
paid $1,329 monthly for his two-bedroom
apartment, which is about half the
$2,600 market-rate rent the development
now charges new tenants. For the
adjacent one-bedroom, he also paid
$1,329. The one-bedrooms are now rented
for $1,865 and up.
He paid $606 a month for the adjacent
studio apartment, while market rents for
studios there are now $1,300. He pays
$630 for the 10th-floor office, and
federal election records show that he
splits the cost between his
Congressional re-election fund, which
has raised more than $3.6 million this
election cycle, and his National
Leadership PAC, a committee he controls,
which raised more than $1.6 million.
Some Congressional ethics experts, while
saying it appears legitimate for Mr.
Rangel to have one rent-stabilized
apartment, question whether his
acceptance of the additional units may
violate the House of Representatives’
ban on members’ accepting gifts of more
than $100. They suggest that the
difference between what Mr. Rangel pays
for the second, third and fourth
apartments and what a new market-rate
tenant would pay — some $30,000 annually
— could be considered a gift because it
is given at the discretion of the
landlord and it is not generally
available to the public.
Landlords can — and routinely do — force
tenants who have more than one
rent-stabilized apartment to give up any
Meredith McGehee, policy director for
the nonpartisan Campaign Legal Center in
Washington, said she was not familiar
with the particulars of Mr. Rangel’s
accommodations, but said that under
House ethics rules, a gift is defined as
any “gratuity, favor, discount,
entertainment, hospitality, loan,
forbearance, or other item having
Mr. Rangel, who earns $169,300 base pay
as a congressman, owns a villa in the
Dominican Republic that is worth
$250,000 to $500,000, his disclosure
form states. He has also bought and sold
properties in recent years; he bought a
condominium in 2004 in Sunny Isles,
Fla., for $50,000 to $100,000 and sold
it last year for $100,000 to $250,000.
In 2004 he also sold a building on 132nd
Street, around the corner from Lenox
Terrace, for $250,000 to $500,000. He
owns mutual funds with a combined value
between $266,000 and $765,000
Mr. Rangel is among New York’s most
influential politicians. He is a member
of the legendary “gang of four” black
Democratic power brokers — along with
Mr. Sutton, the former Manhattan borough
president; former Mayor David N.
Dinkins; and the senior Mr. Paterson,
the former secretary of state and the
governor’s father — who have dominated
Harlem affairs for a generation.
Mr. Rangel is frequently re-elected with
more than 80 percent of the vote. In the
1990s he wrote the Federal Empowerment
Zone demonstration project, a $5 billion
program to revitalize urban
neighborhoods throughout the country.
More than $200 million of that money has
been steered to the Upper Manhattan
Empowerment Zone, where Representative
Rangel has served on the board, and
which has been credited with helping
spur Harlem’s resurgence.
But critics, including some Harlem
residents, complain that Mr. Rangel has
too often used his public office to help
himself and his friends. In 1999, Mr.
Rangel was forced out as chairman of the
Apollo Theater foundation after the
state attorney general’s office charged
that the board had failed to collect
more than $4 million owed to the theater
by a company controlled by his ally Mr.
Sutton. Mr. Rangel and Mr. Sutton denied
Last year, government watchdog groups
criticized Mr. Rangel for pushing
through a $1.9 million earmark to build
the Charles B. Rangel Center for Public
Service at City College of New York,
which is to include an office for Mr.
Rangel and a presidential-style library
for his official papers. The congressman
and the college said that by lending his
name to the project, he had helped the
college raise millions from private