Tenant Harassment Prevention Task Force Reaches Settlement with ICON Realty Management to Protect Tenants and Preserve Affordable Housing, Following Harassment and Hazardous Living Complaints from East Village, Lower East Side, and Brooklyn Tenants
ICON to Also Pay $500,000 in Penalties, Fees, and Costs
Governor Andrew M. Cuomo, Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman and Mayor Bill de Blasio today announced a first of its kind settlement between the Tenant Harassment Prevention Task Force and ICON Realty Management. This settlement provides tenants broad relief, requiring the landlord to end harassment and hazardous living conditions for the hundreds of tenants in buildings owned and managed by ICON.
Tenants in several ICON-owned rent-regulated buildings in the East Village, the Lower East Side, and Brooklyn were forced to live in adverse conditions, enduring excessive dust and debris from construction in the building common areas and apartments, inconsistent and irregular heat and hot water, and lack of cooking gas and elevator service for extended periods. The Task Force investigation found that, on multiple occasions, ICON failed to obtain Department of Buildings work permits, performed construction outside the scope of permits issued, and failed to appropriately clean or maintain the construction work areas. The Task Force investigation also found that ICON ignored tenants' requests for repairs, failed to timely correct housing and building code violations, and subjected tenants to long-lasting interruptions of heat, hot water, and cooking gas services.
The Assurance of Discontinuance (AOD), executed today by the Attorney General's office, requires ICON to adopt policies and procedures to prevent future violations and safety risks; corrects all outstanding housing, maintenance, and building code violations; establishes safe construction practices; provides rent abatements to tenants during disruptions of essential services; appoints a tenant liaison to immediately address tenant concerns; and establishes an independent monitor to ensure ICON's compliance with the agreement. The settlement also requires ICON to pay $300,000 to the State of New York (on behalf of the Task Force) and over $200,000 in penalties, fees, and costs to New York City's Housing Preservation & Development and Department of Buildings.
"This settlement agreement makes it clear that we have zero tolerance for a landlord's illegal and harmful construction that exposes tenants to harassing and hazardous living conditions," Governor Cuomo said. "I am proud of the TPU and all the work we've accomplished with the Task Force to protect rent-regulated tenants from predatory and abusive landlords. New Yorkers have the right to safe decent homes that do not jeopardize their health and safety."
"Unscrupulous landlords should be on notice: we'll use every legal tool at our disposal to protect New York's tenants," Attorney General Schneiderman said. "Too often, bad landlords see rent-regulated apartments as a goldmine - looking to make a quick buck by using construction to harass tenants out of their homes. No New Yorker should have to fear for their health or their safety in their own home. This settlement marks another win for New York's tenants as our Task Force continues to protect their rights and hold landlords accountable."
Mayor Bill de Blasio said, "Property owners in this City have a clear legal responsibility to their tenants and those duties were repeatedly violated by this company. We will continue to work hand in glove with our law enforcement partners to protect New York tenants and punish deadbeat landlords."
The Tenant Harassment Prevention Task Force was created in 2015 in response to growing complaints that landlords were using construction as a mean to harass and endanger the health and safety of tenants. It includes the Governor's Tenant Protection Unit, the New York State Attorney General, and New York City's Department of Housing Preservation and Development and Department of Buildings (DOB). The Task Force combines multi-agency resources to address actions that jeopardize affordable housing and endanger tenants. It executes unannounced top-to-bottom inspections of buildings in New York City, interviews tenants, and shares agency data to build investigations and provide tenants with comprehensive relief. The work of the Task Force has led to criminal prosecutions, such as the case against Daniel Melamed, and/or civil litigation or settlement, such as today's settlement with ICON.
New York State Homes and Community Renewal Commissioner RuthAnne Visnauskas said, "All New Yorkers deserve a safe home. No one should be subjected to unsafe living conditions at the hands of their landlord. Under Governor Cuomo's leadership, the TPU will continue to ensure New York remains a safe place for tenants to live, free from harassment."
Maria Torres-Springer, Commissioner of New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development, said, "Landlords like ICON are exactly why Mayor de Blasio recently enacted eighteen new pieces of legislation strengthening New York's protections against tenant harassment and increasing penalties for owners who continue to engage in it. One of these new bills, Intro. 1549, specifically addresses this type of behavior and ensures tenants have the right to sue landlords for harassment for repeated disruption of essential services. Landlords know that engage in construction harassment will face consequences."
New York City Department of Buildings Commissioner Rick D. Chandler, PE, said, "We are proud of our work on the Tenant Harassment Prevention Task Force and my agency will continue to take strong action to ensure landlords who violate the laws and harass tenants will be held accountable. No landlord is allowed to use unsafe construction practices to harass tenants."
Public Advocate Letitia James said, "This settlement should send a loud and clear message that unscrupulous landlords will not get away with tenant harassment and abuse in New York. For years, this landlord has put tenants in imminent danger and this agreement will require enforceable changes to the company's practices. We will never stop fighting to ensure that every New Yorker has a safe and decent home."
Manhattan Borough President Gale A. Brewer said, "We know what tenants in New York City and its surrounding counties need: comprehensive rent law reform. Until we get that, we need every city and state agency to work together to provide maximum vigilance against landlords who break the laws we have on the books today,". "I thank the Attorney General and the city and state agencies that work together through the task force for pursuing this case and look forward to seeing the difference it will make in ICON tenants' lives."
State Senator Brad Hoylman said, "Finally, tenants living under Icon's reign of terror will get the peace they deserve thanks to the Attorney General's settlement. Nothing can bring back the years people spent fighting unhealthy conditions and afraid of losing their homes, but we can send a message to other bad landlords: New York is coming for you. I'm grateful to Attorney General Schneiderman for all his work holding slumlords accountable and protecting my constituents."
State Senator Liz Krueger said, "Harassment by unscrupulous landlords continues to be a problem for tenants throughout New York City, and ICON Realty has established itself as one of the worst offenders. Over the years my office has heard from many tenants who have suffered under ICON management. Today's settlement represents much needed relief for these tenants, who will finally be able to live in peace and safety in their own homes. I thank Attorney General Schneiderman and his agency partners for continuing to stand strong for the rights of tenants across our city and state."
Assemblymember Brian Kavanagh said, "Today's settlement shows the firm commitment of Attorney General Schneiderman to protect tenants with strong, proactive enforcement of our laws. Unfortunately communities like ours continue to be besieged by the kind of illegal and unscrupulous behavior that this landlord engaged in. Safeguarding the rights of tenants and the safety and affordability of our communities will require ongoing enforcement actions and ultimately stronger laws."
Council Member Dan Garodnick said, "Thanks to the work of Attorney General Schneiderman and the Tenant Harassment Task Force, ICON tenants will now be able to sleep better at night knowing their homes will be safer and more secure for years to come."
Councilwoman Rosie Mendez said, "For the past several years, tenants who reside in Icon Realty buildings have been in contact with our office and community based organizations for assistance on a variety of matters from lack of gas services to prolonged construction work with no timelines or notices. Despite meetings and conference calls with my office and the tenants, ICON failed to make construction and repair work timely creating a hostile and unsafe environment for the tenants. I want to thank Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman for investigating the problems experienced by tenants in ICON buildings and suing ICON. Today's settlement, among other things, will ensure that ICON establishes safe construction practices and will provide rent abatement to the tenants to compensate them during the time they lived without essential services."
Yonatan Tadele of the Cooper Square Committee said, "This agreement is a big win for tenants. Tenants have suffered for years under ICON ownership and management. They've spoken out and tenaciously organized against ICON's tactics. A coalition of Icon tenants from around the City, Icon Community United (ICU), brought their concerns to the Task Force. We are very glad to see such a strong settlement come forward."
Since its creation in 2012, the Governor's TPU enforcement activities have led to the registration of over 60,000 improperly deregulated apartments and the recovery of over $4.1 million in overcharged rent for unsuspecting tenants through settlement agreements and administrative proceedings. The TPU has been on the forefront of new initiatives designed to shield tenants from harassment and to preserve affordable housing. To date, the TPU has entered into several comprehensive, compliance settlement agreements with landlords who were systematically harassing rent-regulated tenants. The TPU has also referred several landlords for criminal prosecution to the Brooklyn District Attorney and the Attorney General.
On behalf of the affected tenants, the Governor wishes to especially recognize the diligent work by the Tenant Protection Unit, the Attorney General, the Department of Buildings, the Department of Housing Preservation and Development, and the Department of Taxation and Finance for their assistance in the investigation and prosecution of this matter.
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