April 24, 2014
Albany, NY

Governor Cuomo Announces Subpoena Served on Brooklyn Landlord Alleged to Have Systematically Harassed Rent-Regulated Tenants

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Governor Andrew M. Cuomo today announced that the states Tenant Protection Unit (TPU) has served a subpoena on JBI Management, investigating allegations of harassment in trying to force Brooklyn tenants out of their rent-regulated apartments by creating hazardous living conditions.

 

It is not only unconscionable, but it is flat out illegal for any landlord to subject families to living without running water or a functioning bathroom or kitchen, Governor Cuomo said. We created the Tenant Protection Unit two years ago to protect rent-regulated tenants against this type of egregious harassment, clearly intended to drive tenants from their apartments. Today we are sending a clear message that this type of behavior will not be tolerated and that we will fight to keep New York families protected and safe.

 

JBI Management, the principals of which are Joel and Aaron Israel, owns ten buildings in Brooklyn. The TPU action against the landlord is based on complaints from rent-regulated tenants in JBI buildings located in the rapidly gentrifying neighborhoods of Williamsburg, Greenpoint and Bushwick. In these buildings, workers without any proper permits gained entry into apartments on the pretense of doing repairs and upgrades, and then, using sledgehammers, rendered the apartments unlivable by demolishing kitchens and bathrooms.

 

Darryl C. Towns, Commissioner/CEO of New York State Homes and Community Renewal (HCR), which includes the TPU, said, This is obviously not the way that responsible landlords renovate apartments: these apartments were trashed, without consideration for structural integrity or the safety and security of the tenants. Through the TPU, the Governor has charged HCR with the mission to protect vulnerable tenants from abuses by landlords who want to aggressively and illegally move apartments out of rent regulation. While we know that most landlords are committed to following the law, we must take action against those who would brazenly flout it.

 

Tenants who have lived in JBI properties in Brooklyn reached out to the TPU because they have lived without basic services, and the landlord has provided no time frame on service restoration. The Office of Rent Administration at HCR has already issued $1 rent orders for tenants who have filed with the agency, a legal remedy that reduces the tenants rent to a single dollar per month for lack of services, until the matter is resolved.

 

The allegations that led to the subpoena include:

 

  • The landlords intentional destruction of several apartments, which in some instances forced families with young children and elderly grandparents to either move into a homeless shelter during the winter months or live in extremely dangerous conditions.
  • The landlords employment of agents that engaged in extreme forms of intimidation, including the unlawful lockout of tenants.

 

In the weeks leading up to today's action, a group of elected officials government agencies and tenant advocates had joined the Governor to pursue an equitable and safe resolution for JBI tenants. The assembled group includes federal, state and local elected officials; legal services groups; as well as tenant advocacy groups.

 

Congresswoman Nydia Velzquez said, I applaud Governor Cuomos TPU and all the other tenant advocates and agencies for working to protect tenants and preserve safe and affordable housing.

 

Commissioner Vicki Been of the New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD), said, The de Blasio administration takes these allegations very seriously, and HPD has been aggressively working with the local elected officials, fellow city agencies and the tenants attorneys to hold Mr. Israel accountable for his actions. We thank Governor Cuomo and TPU for joining us in these efforts and look forward to continuing to work with them in the future.

 

State Senator Martin Dilan said, Many of these buildings are in my district and I take these allegations very seriously. Landlords need to understand that they cannot come into this community and push out long-term, hardworking tenants to unlawfully profit. Thank you Governor Cuomo for your continued stance with the people to protect and preserve rent-stabilized housing in New York.

 

Brent Meltzer, Co-Director of the Housing Unit at Legal Services NYC Brooklyn programs, said, In over a decade of representing tenants, I have never seen such abhorrent behavior from a landlord. This landlord has demonstrated a complete indifference for the well-being of his tenants. I commend the State for taking much-needed action and look forward to working with them and other City officials.

 

Rolando Guzman, Deputy Director for Community Preservation at St. Nicks Alliance, said, We are pleased that Governor Cuomo and the TPU have engaged to prevent the destruction of rent-regulated apartments.

 

The TPU was created by Governor Cuomo in 2012 and in the two years since its inception, TPU investigators and auditors have recaptured 29,000 units that landlords had failed to register, restoring them to rent regulation.

 

Since its creation, the TPU has also:

 

  • Audited Individual Apartment Improvements (IAIs), requiring itemized bills to substantiate real costs, because these added improvements can be used to move an apartment over the $2500 rent threshold, exiting regulation.
  • Worked proactively to reach settlement agreements to restore a quarter of a million dollars in overcharges to tenants who did not know they were overpaying on their rent.
  • Announced the first-ever settlement against a landlord who was harassing and intimidating Spanish-speaking tenants in January 2014.
  • Assisted HCR in the eligibility determination for entitlement to state loans/grants/tax credits of potential landlords, by investigating and vetting their financial soundness and mortgage holdings for signs of overleveraging within their portfolios or allegations of increased tenant turnover through harassment
  • Implemented new rent regulations, at the beginning of 2014, to support the new rent laws, by: clarifying how apartment improvements are calculated and verified; raising the deregulation rent threshold; raising the income threshold; and limiting vacancy bonuses to only one per year, reducing the ability of a landlord to move tenants in and out of a unit several times a year for the sole purpose of tacking on another vacancy bonus and moving units past the $2500 rent threshold.

 

The TPU's actions, along with the strengthening of the rent laws in 2011, have turned the deregulation tide, with far fewer units now leaving the system. Combined with the HCR-subsidized construction of 6,000 rent-regulated units since 2011, the number of rent-regulated units in New York State is now growing.

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