Joint Investigation Between Governor’s Tenant Protection Unit and the Attorney General Uncovers Alleged Deceptive and Illegal Conduct and Harassment by Landlords in Chinatown and the Lower East Side
Defendants Accused of Allegedly Engaging in Sham Legal Proceedings, Coercing Rent-Regulated Tenants to Sign Away Their Housing Rights
Since its Creation, the TPU’s Enforcement Has Led to the Recovery of Over $2.8 million in Overcharged Rent; Re-registration of Over 53,000 Improperly Deregulated Apartments
Governor Andrew M. Cuomo and Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman today announced a lawsuit against Marolda Properties, Inc., a Manhattan property management company that manages rent-regulated apartment buildings and the landlords who own the buildings. The lawsuit is the result of a joint investigation between the Attorney General’s Office and Governor Cuomo’s Tenant Protection Unit. An investigation into defendants’ practices was originally initiated by the Tenant Protection Unit of the New York State Division of Housing and Community Renewal after receiving complaints from various non-profit organizations that work with and in the tenants’ neighborhoods. A TPU subpoena examined the business practices of Marolda for tenant harassment and allegations of trying to force long-term Asian-American tenants out of their rent-regulated apartments.
“This administration has no tolerance for those who seek to undermine the rights of tenants and use intimidation and harassment to deny them the protections they are entitled to under the law,” Governor Cuomo said. “We created the Tenant Protection Unit to ensure these renters have a voice and, as today’s action demonstrates, we will continue to root out these unscrupulous practices and create a safer, fairer and more affordable New York for all.”
“No tenant should be subjected to unsafe conditions, harassment, illegal eviction and other violations of the housing and rent laws,” Attorney General Schneiderman said. “Unfortunately, some landlords believe they can get away with using these tactics to coerce tenants out of their apartments so they can then raise the rent. My office will continue to partner with TPU and other government agencies to do everything in our power to put a stop to these types of unlawful practices.”
The lawsuit, filed in New York State Supreme Court, alleges that Marolda Properties and the other defendants improperly sought to evict rent-regulated tenants by serving notices and bringing proceedings in housing court falsely alleging that the tenants no longer occupied the premises as their primary residence. The lawsuit also alleges that defendants refused to renew tenants’ legally-required leases, overcharged and failed to account for rent paid by tenants, did not conduct necessary and proper repairs and renovations, and engaged in other harassing, deceptive and retaliatory behavior. The suit seeks a court order prohibiting defendants from engaging in these kinds of practices in the future, directing them to pay damages and/or restitution to tenants who were harmed, disgorge all profits that resulted from their illegal practices, pay penalties for their illegal conduct, create comprehensive policies for employees to follow and engage a third-party administrator to monitor compliance with the law.
New York State Homes and Community Renewal Commissioner James S. Rubin said, “This joint investigation between the Governor’s Tenant Protection Unit and the Attorney General brings the full weight of the state’s resources to bear on landlords who use harassment schemes in an effort to vacate rent-regulated apartments and break up tight-knit communities. It’s wrong and it stops here. We’re fighting for the rights of tenants in Chinatown and the Lower East Side and across the city to stay in their affordable homes. The Tenant Protection Unit will continue to work hard to combat landlords who are trying to use the court system as a vehicle to harass and evict their tenants.”
Since its creation in 2012, the Tenant Protection Unit’s enforcement activities have led to the registration of over 53,000 improperly deregulated apartments and the recovery of over $2.8 million in overcharged rent for unsuspecting tenants through settlement agreements and administrative proceedings.
The affiliated landlords named in the lawsuit include Green Leaf Associates, LLC, Forsyth Green, LLC, Forsyth Blue, LLC, 83-85 Baxter Street, LLC, 7 Rivington Street, LLC, 90 Elizabeth St., LLC, Ludlow 65 Realty LLC, 13-15 Essex Street, LLC, 145 Ave. C., LLC, and 100 Forsyth Associates, LLC.
Senator Daniel Squadron said, "Too often, harassment tactics are used by bad actors against rent-regulated tenants. It's unacceptable when Marolda does it, it's unacceptable when Croman does it, and today's action from the Tenant Protection Unit and Attorney General is another reminder that it's simply unacceptable in our state," said State Senator Daniel Squadron. "I'm proud to have worked with the TPU and AG to have exposed some of these concerns in my district, and look forward to continuing to work together against these practices. Thank you to the Governor, TPU, AG, CAAAV Organizing Asian Communities, the Cooper Square Committee, MFY Legal Services, Asian Americans for Equality, and University Settlement."
Assemblymember Alice Cancel said, “The state is not going to stand by as tenants are threatened, harassed, and willfully exploited. I commend the Governor’s Tenant Protection Unit and Attorney General Schneiderman for their decisive role in bringing relief and a civil remedy to Asian American rent-regulated tenants in Chinatown and the Lower East Side. Working together we can fight to protect our communities from those who are seeking to target our seniors and families and force them out on the street.”
Cathy Dang, the Executive Director of CAAAV Organizing Asian Communities, said, “Marolda tenants organized for months to fight for accountability of their landlord and made this lawsuit possible. We applaud the Tenant Protection Unit and the Governor's Office for working with the tenants and filing this lawsuit in Supreme Court. Today’s lawsuit addresses the hardship that these tenants - families, seniors, and struggling tenants – have had to endure with malicious legal proceedings. We hope that this filing sends a message to all landlords that tenants won't tolerate harassment pushing them out of their homes.”
Michael Grinthal, the Supervising Attorney at MFY Legal Services, Inc. said, "MFY appreciates the work that the Governor's Tenant Protection Unit has done in listening to tenants and taking their stories seriously during its investigation. MFY's clients will continue to stand up to landlord harassment, but it is powerful to know that the DHCR and Attorney General are taking action to stand with them."
The lawsuit alleges that defendants served tenants with notices (called “Golub” notices) that stated that the tenants did not actually live at their apartments and that an eviction proceeding would be filed if the tenants did not leave voluntarily at the end of their lease. Defendants frequently had little or no evidence to support their claims. In fact, database searches relied on by defendants showed the tenants did in fact live in the apartments they claimed to live in, or merely showed that the tenants had lived at other buildings many years earlier. The notices and lawsuits were also frequently based on conclusory claims that the landlords’ employees had not seen the tenants around their apartments for an extended period of time, when in fact many of the tenants frequently come and go from their apartments and sometimes even see the landlords’ employees on a regular basis. Defendants used these tactics to wear down their rent-regulated tenants, many of whom are elderly and do not speak English fluently, into leaving their apartments, sometimes in exchange for additional payments. Once the apartments are vacated, defendants may raise the rent under the rent regulation laws and thereby increase their profits.
The lawsuit further alleges that defendants have engaged in construction, renovations and repairs on their buildings without the legally required permits, and on other occasions have signed statements on their permit applications falsely claiming that the buildings are vacant. This allowed them to unlawfully evade the legal requirement to create a tenant protection plan specifically designed to safeguard the safety and health of their tenants during construction.
The lawsuit also alleges that defendants have at times locked tenants out of their apartments, engaged in unnecessary or unnecessarily burdensome and lengthy repairs and on other occasions failed to engage in necessary repairs, sometimes leaving tenants with substandard, unsafe and unsanitary housing conditions. For instance, the lawsuit alleges that certain tenants living at 13-15 Essex Street in the Lower East Side are presently forced to pay for and use slow, ineffective and in light of the electrical wiring in the building, potentially dangerous store-bought hot plates to cook and heat their food, because their gas has been turned off by the landlord since February of this year. At the same time, these elderly tenants, one of whom has a disability, are forced to climb three flights of stairs to use an alternative restroom because their own toilet was removed in August and never replaced.
Tenants who believe they are the target of unlawful, deceptive or harassing behavior by landlords or their agents are urged contact the A.G. in order to file complaints online or call 1-800-771-7755. Tenants who live in rent-regulated apartments and feel they are being harassed should also contact the TPU at (718) 739-6400 or TPUinfo@nyshcr.org.
The case against the Marolda Properties and the affiliated landlords is being handled by Assistant Attorney General Noah Popp, TPU Attorneys Karis Rasmussen and Jordan Fried, who have been deputized as Special Assistant Attorney Generals for this matter, Bureau Chief Jane M. Azia and the Executive Deputy Attorney General for Economic Justice Manisha M. Sheth.
Additional TPU staff working on this investigation includes TPU Legal Director Vernitta N. Chambers, under the supervision of TPU Bureau Chief Gregory C. Fewer and under the overall supervision of TPU Deputy Commissioner Richard R. White.
For more information about the Governor’s Tenant Protection Unit go to: www.nyshcr.org/TPU.
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