The Musicians’ Voice

Volume C, No. 2February, 2000

The Musicians’ Voice is an open forum for discussion about the state of union affairs. Please keep all letters to 500 words and send them to Allegro, c/o Local 802, 322 West 48th Street, New York, NY 10036.


To the Editor:

The current real estate boom can make any rent-controlled or rent-stabilized tenant the landlord’s next target for eviction. Landlord tactics include everything from financial offers to legal battles, and even cruel physical harassment. They employ private investigators who search everything from computers to garbage. Musicians are particularly vulnerable in several ways, including noise complaints, absences from New York City (for tours or seasonal work) and questionable sublets.

Information about how to protect your lease can be hard to come by, since so many publications depend on real estate ads. Last year I was involved in a long – and ultimately successful – battle to save my apartment. I’m writing this letter in the hope that my experience can benefit other members of Local 802.

Disputes often revolve around the standard lease issue of primary residency, which basically requires a tenant to be in New York City a minimum of 183 days each year, and to have a strong, ongoing connection with the apartment. Tours, festivals and other relatively short absences from the city are not supposed to be subtracted from this residency period. However, longer absences or vacation home ownership can complicate matters, making it advisable for you to get solid legal advice.

Landlords have been known to send eviction notices to every tenant – thereby gaining a few apartments from frightened tenants for just the cost of the postage stamps – or to threaten eviction because a renewal notice was received one day late. Illegal actions like these can sometimes be dealt with quickly and inexpensively. Tenants do have rights, and it is worthwhile to protect and preserve them.

Following are some ways to avoid or alleviate problems:

  1. Very important: pay your rent on time with a check drawn on a New York City bank, and mailed in an envelope with a NYC postmark. Avoid arousing suspicion.
  2. Know your lease well – your rights and responsibilities.
  3. Be extremely careful about the noise issue and about sublets.
  4. Keep some form of current diary, such as a well-annotated appointed book. Save these diaries for five years – they are also helpful with taxes.

Save five years’ worth of NYC paper trail. This can include tax returns, voting records (available from the Board of Elections), driver’s license, car registration or insurance papers, bank statements, utility bills, credit card bills, medical and employment records, concert programs, travel receipts, some cash receipts – anything that indicates your presence in New York City. Keep the papers in a safe place.

Help and information are available from your tenants’ committee, local tenant organizations (such as New York State Tenants & Neighbors, (212) 695-8922, or Metropolitan Council on Housing, (212) 693-0550), libraries, and especially from web sites such as “tenantnet.” A very helpful book is “Tenant Power” by Tenant X (available through Barnes and Noble).

While some people choose to represent themselves that can be quite risky, considering the high stakes, the complicated and changing tenant laws, and the fact that the landlords we are confronted by often employ high-powered law firms. If you decide to engage a lawyer, do careful research. It is best to engage one who represents only tenants, to avoid possible conflicts of interest. Expenses can be contained by doing some basic tasks (such as copying) for yourself and by faxing your lawyer about routine matters, instead of phoning.

There is usually an initial hearing to determine if the case should continue. The next stage is a discovery hearing (deposition) to assess the scope of the case. At this hearing it is crucial that one is not only truthful but very succinct. Some cases may be settled at this point; the trials, appeals and litigation may drag on for as long as a few years; but most cases are concluded within a year or so. Landlords will often drag things out, hoping that tenants will run out of patience or funds, or both. Many people prefer to settle out of court, since the quality of justice in the courts depends heavily on the fairness of the judge, an element over which we have no control.

Remember – a proactive, well-informed, organized and documented tenant with a good lawyer has the best chance of success with the minimum financial damage. May you be lucky enough to avoid this – but if it happens, good luck!

–Mary Alderdice Malin


To the Editor:

While reading the January 2000 issue of Allegro we came across the article headlined “RMA – NY, Local 802 Launch Advertising Campaign: Ads Promote New York as Film Recording Venue.” It stated in the third paragraph: “The film industry has been devastated by a flow of work to Canada and Mexico — part of the loss of jobs in the United States caused by the passage of the North America Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) several years ago.”

As a Local situated in the major city of Vancouver, British Columbia, on the West Coast of Canada (sometimes referred to as “Hollywood North”) we can substantiate the fact that there has been over the years, and continues to be, an extraordinary amount of film production in our geographical area. This has been brought about by the willingness of our provincial and federal governments to train world-class technicians in the film industry, and to offer substantial tax incentives to the international film community. Combined with a low-valued Canadian dollar, especially in comparison to the U.S. dollar, has proven to be an irresistible incentive to American film producers to produce their films in British Columbia. Once again, this gives credence to the old saying that “loyalty is as thick as a dollar bill.” Our provincial government is currently investing heavily in building new sound stages in the Vancouver area to keep ahead of the demands of the film industry.

We can readily understand the real concerns of New York and Hollywood technicians about the loss of jobs in their industry – but we feel that it should be pointed out to Local 802 members that Canadian musicians, especially those in the Vancouver area and members of Local 145, are receiving no work in recording film scores related to the hundreds of movies and TV series being produced in British Columbia.

It is our contention that scoring sessions for the multitude of films being produced here continues to be done off shore or with non AFM members in the United States – as close as Seattle, WA in our case. The Canadian dollar is currently pegged at a rate of 0.6864 against the U.S. dollar, a level that has prevailed for a long time. One might assume that an approximate 32 percent discount on the cost of producing film music in Canada would be enticing, but not so. Local 145 has, as does every other Local in every major city in Canada, an extensive and diversified pool of talented musicians who are more than capable of performing any film score at a level consistent with and equal to any musicians in the world. We are – as you are – proud to be able to make, as well as back up, these claims.

It should be pointed out to all AFM members and officers that what the film producers want from their composers is a score with no encumbrances; i.e., a buyout. The film composers do what they have to do to please their producers, and as a result the composers themselves will often become the signatories and compose a complete synthesized score. This then circumnavigates the AFM obligations that are usually the responsibility of the film company and gives the producers what they want. The other choices are off shore recordings in countries that are “the flavor of the month” and offer total buy outs, non-AFM member sessions, or dark dates using AFM members. One way or another, our current system of controlling recorded film music by AFM members is being bypassed and eroded. Maybe it is time for the Federation to revisit the way in which it does business with the film industry.

The one thing for sure is that any “runaway productions” of films to Canada, with its cost of jobs to U.S. citizens, applies to the technical side only and not to the musical side.

–R.A. (Bobby) Hales, President Local 145
&Wayne Morris, Secretary Local 145