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Congressman defends his lease as fair

Rangel has four rent-stabilized apartments in N.Y.

Representative Charles B. Rangel, a Democrat of New York, stood in front of his apartment building in Harlem as he responded yesterday to a report in The New York Times that he pays below-market rent for his four apartments at the complex. Representative Charles B. Rangel, a Democrat of New York, stood in front of his apartment building in Harlem as he responded yesterday to a report in The New York Times that he pays below-market rent for his four apartments at the complex. (ED OU/ASSOCIATED PRESS)
Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By David Kocieniewski
New York Times News Service / July 12, 2008

NEW YORK - Representative Charles B. Rangel yesterday angrily defended the unusual housing bargain he has been granted by a major real estate developer in Harlem, saying he did not believe he was being allowed four rent-stabilized apartments because of his status as a member of Congress.

Responding to an article in yesterday's New York Times, Rangel, a Democrat of New York who is chairman of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee, said there was nothing illegal or unethical about his relationship with the Olnick Organization, his landlord at Lenox Terrace. He also said he did not believe it was unfair to avail himself of the multiple rent-stabilized apartments at a time of soaring rents in Manhattan and evictions of many rent-regulated tenants.

"I didn't see anything unfair about it," he said at a news conference he convened at the apartment complex on 135th Street between Lenox and Fifth avenues. "I didn't even know it was a deal."

Rangel said he did not believe it excessive to have three adjacent apartments on the building's 16th floor, where he and his wife live. But he said he would consider giving up the fourth apartment, which he uses as a campaign office, if his staff concludes that it violates the state and city requirement that rent-regulated apartments be used only as primary residences.

"That is something that I have to look into," he said. About the adjacent apartments, "as it relates to me and my family, I'm not looking into that at all," he added.

A government watchdog group yesterday asked the House Ethics Committee to look into the arrangement and find out whether it violated a ban on members' accepting gifts of more than $100.

The group, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, also filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission, seeking a review of whether the Olnick group, by granting Rangel the use of a below-market apartment for an office, was making an illegal corporate campaign contribution.

Rangel paid a total rent of $3,894 a month for his four units in 2007, according to state records obtained by the Times. The Olnick Organization's website now advertises similar apartments in Rangel's building at a combined market rent of $7,465 to $8,125 a month.

State and city laws allow tenants to lease more than one rent-stabilized apartment, but also permit landlords to evict tenants who have more than one. As the Manhattan housing market tightens, many landlords have been moving to force tenants out and enable themselves to charge higher rents, and housing specialists say it is virtually unheard of for any tenant to have four such apartments.

Rangel's occasionally chaotic 20-minute sidewalk news conference included several testy exchanges with reporters. But the lawmaker, who has served 19 terms in the House of Representatives, also seemed unnerved by a passer-by who shouted "House the homeless!" and by other neighborhood residents who showed up to confront him.

Saying he was proud to have lived nearly all of his 78 years in "my beloved Harlem," Rangel explained that although his 16th-floor residence was technically considered three apartments, two of them had been combined by the previous tenant before he moved in more than 20 years ago.

He said that when the apartment next to those two became vacant about a decade ago, he rented it and began using it as a den and a guest room for relatives and out-of-town visitors.

"I got that apartment and I used that as my den and my office," he said. "When I came in late at night from Washington, I'd go in there first. It's a studio apartment."

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