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Landlord Brothers Admit to an Illegal Eviction Campaign in B

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Landlord Brothers Admit to an Illegal Eviction Campaign in B

Postby TenantNet » Wed Nov 30, 2016 11:00 am

Landlord Brothers Admit to an Illegal Eviction Campaign in Brooklyn
by Colin Moynihan
New York Times
November 29, 2016

Several years ago, Joel and Aaron Israel, two brothers who own residential buildings in Brooklyn, decided to increase their profits by replacing rent-regulated tenants with residents willing to pay much higher amounts.

To that end, prosecutors in Brooklyn said, the two resorted to acts of skulduggery. They destroyed apartments. They hired people to intimidate residents. They built a wall that stopped a tenant from entering his apartment. Sabotage to one of their properties prompted New York City officials to order the entire building emptied of tenants.

In State Supreme Court in Brooklyn on Tuesday, the Israel brothers pleaded guilty to engaging in a scheme to defraud as well as three counts of unlawful eviction. They can avoid going to prison if they adhere to the terms of a plea agreement that requires them to pay restitution to tenants and follow requirements established by the city’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development and the state’s Homes and Community Renewal agency.

“If you do all these things, then the promise is after six months I will sentence you to five years’ probation and you will perform 500 hours of community service,” Justice Danny K. Chun told the men. “If the conditions are not met, the individual defendants, both of you, face one and a third to four years in jail.”

The deal allows the Israels to continue to own the buildings where they committed the offenses. The brothers did not speak in court except to answer softly in the affirmative when the judge asked whether the allegations in the agreement were accurate.

The agreement describes in detail the unscrupulous tactics the brothers used “to remove the rent-stabilized tenants from their apartments in order to make a greater profit by renting the apartments at market rate.”

In 2013, the agreement says, the brothers demolished the kitchens and bathroomsof two apartments in a building in the Bushwick section that they had bought six months earlier. The families living in the apartments refused to leave, then lived without running water for 17 months as vermin entered through holes created as part of the demolition.

At one point, Chaim Twersky, a property manager for the building, at 98 Linden Street, testified before an administrative law judge that the tenants had vandalized their apartments. People hired by the Israels patrolled the halls with pit bulls, baseball bats and sledgehammers and invited non-tenants to use drugs in common areas, according to the agreement.

Also in 2013, the brothers began demolishing the second floor of a building at 300 Nassau Avenue in the Greenpoint section, even though people were living on the first and third floors. As a result of the demolition, those tenants were forced to live without heat. The Israels also paid an unidentified person for information about how to damage a structure so that the city would issue a buildingwide order to vacate. A short time later, someone vandalized the building’s utilities, making it uninhabitable and prompting the city to order all tenants to move out.

The brothers removed every rent-stabilized tenant from a Williamsburg building and replaced them with residents paying more than $4,000 per month apiece. They obtained an eviction warrant for a tenant in Bushwick based on false information, got the New York City Marshal Service to remove her belongings and then demolished the apartment’s kitchen and bathroom. They gained access to an apartment in another Bushwick building by saying they wanted to make repairs, but instead built a wall in the middle of the kitchen and another that blocked the front door, preventing the tenant from entering the apartment.

The Israels were first investigated in 2014 by the state’s Tenant Protection Unit, part of Homes and Community Renewal. As part of the inquiry, the unit subpoenaed business records for 10 buildings the brothers owned, then referred the case to the Brooklyn district attorney’s office for prosecution.

In response to the Israels’ plea deal, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, a Democrat, said on Tuesday that the state would have “zero tolerance” for dishonest landlords.

In a statement of his own, Eric Gonzalez, the acting Brooklyn district attorney, said, “Anyone trying to cash in on soaring market rents by breaking the law and abusing tenants will face serious consequences.”

The plea agreement requires the brothers to pay a total of nearly $250,000 to eight tenants in sums ranging from about $13,000 to $68,000.

They must also hire an independent managing agent to run the building at 300 Nassau Avenue and provide an independent monitor, subject to the approval of the authorities, to oversee all of their rent-stabilized and rent-controlled apartments. The monitor’s duties will include ensuring that the Israels comply with all laws governing such units and administering a $100,000 fund created by the brothers to compensate tenants for expenses and harm.
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