Defendants Admit Trying to Force out Tenants in Rapidly Gentrifying North Brooklyn Neighborhoods Investigation by Governor Cuomo’s Tenant Protection Unit, Brooklyn DA and City Agencies Found Evidence of Hazardous Construction Intended to Harass Tenants TPU Enforcement Activities Led to the Registration of over 55,000 Improperly Deregulated Apartments; the Recovery of Over $3 Million in Overcharged Rent
Governor Andrew M. Cuomo and Acting Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez today announced that two Brooklyn landlords have pleaded guilty to scheme to defraud and unlawful eviction for forcing or attempting to force rent-stabilized tenants out of their homes by destroying their apartments and making them uninhabitable in order to collect significantly higher market-rate rents. The investigation was initiated by the Governor’s Tenant Protection Unit concerning allegations of extreme harassment and intimidation in many of the approximately ten buildings owned and managed by Joel and Amrom (aka Aaron) Israel in Bushwick, Williamsburg, and Greenpoint, and that resulted in the TPU referring the case to the Brooklyn District Attorney’s Office for criminal prosecution.
“New York has zero tolerance for those who seek to defraud or discriminate against rent-regulated tenants trying to make a home for themselves and their families,” Governor Cuomo said. “Together with our state and local partners, the Tenant Protection Unit will further crack down on unscrupulous landlords and ensure that those responsible for this reprehensible conduct are held to full account. The state is committed to protecting tenants’ rights and ensuring access to safe, decent and affordable housing statewide.”
“Landlords across Brooklyn should be put on notice by today’s felony guilty pleas that illegal actions they may take to harass and intimidate tenants in rent regulated apartments will not go unpunished,” said Acting District Attorney Gonzalez. “Anyone trying to cash in on soaring market rents by breaking the law and abusing tenants will face serious consequences. I promise to continue to vigorously prosecute building owners who brazenly flout the law as they try to illegally evict protected tenants.”
“The Governor’s Tenant Protection Unit continues to fight for the rights of tenants to live without fear of intimidation or abuse in apartments that landlords are targeting for turnover to market rate,” said New York State Homes and Community Renewal Commissioner James S. Rubin. “When the TPU finds evidence of civil or criminal wrongdoing – they advance the investigations accordingly – and seek prosecutions and appropriate legal action to the full extent of the law on behalf of vulnerable tenants. This prolonged scheme was particularly devastating because it deprived tenants of plumbing and cooking facilities for months, creating hazardous and desperate living conditions. This is the first of several criminal referrals the TPU has made and it sends a resounding message that the State is working closely with law enforcement and is at the forefront of protecting tenants’ rights.”
“Today we send a message that law enforcement won’t stand by as landlords try to force tenants out of their homes and take existing rent-stabilized housing away from the community,” said New York City Housing Preservation and Development Commissioner Vicki Been. “After years of aggressive enforcement and legal actions, HPD was delighted to partner with the DA recently to welcome residents back into their repaired homes at 300 Nassau, one of several properties owned or managed by Joel and Aaron Israel. I want to thank Acting Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez for continuing the great work started by the late Ken Thompson to take housing crimes seriously and hold owners like the Israel’s accountable.”
The Acting District Attorney said that the defendants, Joel Israel, 35, and his brother, Amrom (aka Aaron) Israel, 38, both of Borough Park, Brooklyn, and their corporations, JBI Management Inc., Linden Ventures LLC, 324 Central Realty LLC, Salmor Realty 2, LLC and Salmor Realty LLC today pleaded guilty to one count of first-degree scheme to defraud and various counts of unlawful eviction before Brooklyn Supreme Court Justice Danny Chun.
The defendants entered into a plea agreement with the District Attorney’s Office in which they will receive five years’ probation; each be required to perform 500 hours of community service; and to make restitution of approximately $248,000 to be shared among eight tenants who were harassed while they variously lived at the following locations: 98 Linden Street in Bushwick, 324 Central Avenue in Bushwick, 300 Nassau Avenue in Greenpoint, 15 Humboldt Street in Williamsburg and 386 Woodbine Street in Bushwick. The corporations will be sentenced to a conditional discharge.
As a condition of the plea, the Israel defendants will settle claims by the Governor’s Tenant Protection Unit by agreeing to a five-year settlement agreement that, among other things, requires the defendants to create policies and procedures for their businesses that own and/or manage rent regulated buildings and apartments; to hire an independent monitor who will report directly to the TPU and the District Attorney’s Office and will oversee the defendants’ rent regulated properties and ensure they comply with the rent laws through the term of their probation; and to fund a “Tenant Compensation Monetary Fund” with $100,000 that will be administered by the monitor, with approval by TPU, to compensate tenants who vacated their apartments and/or experienced harm due to harassment, a reduction in services or other unlawful acts of JBI. This payment is in addition to the criminal restitution.
The Acting District Attorney said that, according to the plea allocution, as landlords and managers, Joel Israel and his brother Amrom Israel, and their companies, owned or controlled at least five rent-stabilized buildings in northern Brooklyn. The defendants knew about the rent stabilization laws that governed their buildings, including that their tenants were entitled to receive required services, to have their leases renewed, to have limits on the amount of rent they paid and to not be evicted except on grounds required by law. In all five buildings, the defendants schemed to harass tenants, evict tenants and deny the tenants their property rights. The purpose of the scheme was to remove the rent stabilized tenants from their apartments in order to make a greater profit by renting the apartments at market rate.
Congresswoman Nydia M. Velázquez said, “Unscrupulous landlords should take notice – if you are gaming the system to unlawfully evict tenants for the sake of greater profit, there will be consequences. I’m pleased we were able to work together at all levels of government with the community to protect these tenants and ensure their rights are respected.”
Senator Martin Malavé Dilan said, “The Israel brothers’ plea agreement today is proof that everyone, from Brooklyn tenants to District Attorney Gonzalez and Governor Cuomo have had enough of unscrupulous landlords running roughshod over our communities and housing laws. Today’s agreement is exactly what these two deserve. I commend the work of Governor Cuomo, the Tenant Protection Unit and DA Gonzalez, and thank them for bringing these men to justice. Let it serve as a message to all would be slumlords.”
Assemblymember Maritza Davila said, “My long-time constituents face the financial reality of neighborhood change every single day. The greed exhibited by some – including, but sadly not limited to – Joel and Aaron Israel threatens to rip our communities apart. We cannot let that happen. Thanks to the good work of the Governor’s Tenant Protection Unit, in cooperation with the Brooklyn District Attorney’s office, and the work of our local community organizations, we have averted a catastrophe and see justice done. I hope that this guilty plea resonates through the landlord community and serves as a reminder that all New Yorkers deserve decent housing and will get the protection of the law.”
Assemblyman Erik Martin Dilan said, “We commend the late District Attorney Kenneth Thompson for bringing this action, and Acting District Attorney Eric Gonzalez for continuing the case. Along with DHCR Commissioner James Rubin, who is committed to protecting tenants in our district and throughout the state.”
Assemblyman Joseph R. Lentol said, “A sliver of residents in North Brooklyn can now breathe a sigh of relief. Two unscrupulous landlords took it upon themselves to ruin an individual’s greatest asset, a roof over their head. But not any roof, an affordable roof. However, these two men, who today have plead guilty, are only the tip of the iceberg. There are other landlords who harass their tenants with the hopes of forcing them out of their rent-stabilized units. It is because of this case and other similar cases that I introduced legislation with Senator Martin Dilan to criminalize harassment of a rent regulated tenant in the second degree, which would be a class A misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail. I congratulate Acting Brooklyn DA Gonzalez and his team for bringing these men to justice.”
Edward Josephson, Director of Litigation, Legal Services NYC, said, “It is satisfying to hear that substantial justice has been won for the victims of the Israel brothers, who set new lows in the mistreatment of their rent regulated tenants. We are pleased to see that these notorious landlords have been compelled to acknowledge their fraudulent behavior, and to pay compensation to the government and to the tenants who have suffered from their practices.”
Since its creation in 2012, the Tenant Protection Unit enforcement activities have led to the registration of over 55,000 improperly deregulated apartments and the recovery of over $3 million in overcharged rent for unsuspecting tenants through settlement agreements and administrative proceedings.
TPU staff who assisted with this case includes, Rent Inspector Ryoneal Wilson, Assistant Counsel Karis Rasmussen and Senior Attorney Monique Thomas, under the direction of Legal Director Vernitta N. Chambers and Investigations Director Lewis Gray, under the supervision of Bureau Chief Gregory C. Fewer and under the overall supervision of Deputy Commissioner Richard R. White.
HPD’s Emergency Repair Program spent more than $42,034 since 2002 to make repairs to immediately hazardous violations at 300 Nassau, and initiated several housing court cases, including a comprehensive case, before the City determined that the conditions in the building were unsafe to the tenants’ life, health and safety, and vacated the tenants. In 2014, the residents initiated a 7-A case with the assistance of Brooklyn Legal Services Corp. A, and HPD’s Housing Litigation Division joined them in successfully obtaining an order appointing a 7-A Administrator. HPD provided the 7-A Administrator of 300 Nassau Avenue 7-A Financial Assistance in the amount of over approximately $565,000 to repair or replace major systems and make other repairs. In addition, HPD’s Office of Enforcement and Neighborhood Services have been heavily involved in fighting to protect the tenants at 98 Linden Street and 224 Schaefer Street, and continue to work with residents of these buildings to find resolution to extensive maintenance conditions.
The case was prosecuted by Assistant District Attorney Gavin W. Miles, Counsel to the District Attorney’s Frauds Bureau and Senior Assistant District Attorney Samantha Magnani, of the District Attorney’s Investigations Division, under the supervision of Assistant District Attorney Richard Farrell, Chief of the Real Estate Fraud Unit and Assistant District Attorney Felice Sontupe, Chief of the Frauds Bureau, and the overall supervision of Executive Assistant District Attorney William E. Schaeffer, Chief of the District Attorney’s Investigations Division and Patricia McNeill, Deputy Chief.
Tenants who live in rent-regulated apartments and believe they are being harassed should contact the TPU at (718) 739-6400 or [email protected]. For more information about the Governor’s Tenant Protection Unit go to: www.nyshcr.org/TPU.