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Unscrupulous landlords plead guilty to fraud

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Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and Acting Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez on Tuesday announced that two Brooklyn landlords have pleaded guilty to a scheme to defraud and to unlawfully evict rent-stabilized tenants by forcing or attempting to force them out of their homes.

Cuomo and Gonzales said the landlords destroyed the tenants’ apartments, making them uninhabitable in order to collect significantly higher market-rate rents.

Gonzalez said the investigation was initiated by the Governor’s Tenant Protection Unit (TPU) concerning allegations of extreme harassment and intimidation in many of the approximately 10 buildings owned and managed by Joel and Amrom (aka Aaron) Israel in Bushwick, Williamsburg and Greenpoint.

The Brooklyn district attorney, as a result, the case was referred to his 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,” 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,” he added. “The state is committed to protecting tenants’ rights and ensuring access to safe, decent, affordable housing statewide.”

Gonzalez said: “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.

“Anyone trying to cash in on soaring market rents by breaking the law and abusing tenants will face serious consequenc­es,” he said. “I promise to continue to vigorously prosecute building owners who brazenly flout the law as they try to illegally evict protected tenants.”

New York State Homes and Community Renewal Commissioner James S. Rubin said: “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.

“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,” he said.

“This prolonged scheme was particularly devastating because it deprived tenants of plumbing and cooking facilities for months, creating hazardous and desperate living conditions,” he added. “This is the first of several criminal referrals the TPU has made and it sends a resounding message that New York State is working closely with law enforcement and is at the forefront of protecting tenants’ rights.”

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 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 about $248,000 to be shared among eight tenants.

Gonzalez said the tenants lived at the following locations: 98 Linden Street in Bushwick, 324 Central Ave. in Bushwick, 300 Nassau Ave. in Greenpoint, 15 Humboldt Street in Williamsburg and 386 Woodbine St., Bushwick.

The corporations will be sentenced to a conditional discharge, Gonzalez said.

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.

The defendants also agreed 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.

In addition, Gonzalez said the Israel defendants have agreed 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, Gonzalez said.

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.

He said 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,” Gonzalez said. “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.”

Tenants who live in rent-regulated apartments and believe they are being harassed should contact the TPU at (718) 739-6400 or TPUinfo@nyshcr.org.

For more information about the Governor’s Tenant Protection Unit go to: www.nyshcr.org/TPU.

Updated 3:05 am, July 10, 2018
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