A pair of landlord brothers in Brooklyn are under arrest and facing unlawful eviction and other charges for allegedly forcing or attempting to force rent-stabilized tenants out of their homes by destroying their apartments to make them uninhabitable.
It was part of a goal, prosecutors say, to destabilize the apartments in order to collect significantly higher market-rate rents.
Police say Joel and Amrom Israel were taken into custody Thursday morning and were by Judge Danny Chun in Downtown Brooklyn.
“We simply will not allow the hardworking people of Brooklyn to be intimidated and harassed or have their apartments destroyed by those who seek to force them out just to make money from the lucrative real estate market,” Brooklyn DA Ken Thompson said. “Rent-stabilized apartments are designed to protect tenants and cannot be turned into market value apartments through intimidation and fraud. It’s against the law and we will investigate and vigorously prosecute those who harass and prey on innocent tenants in Brooklyn.”
The Israel brothers were indicted on one count of scheme to defraud, one count of second-degree burglary, three counts of third-degree grand larceny, one count of second-degree criminal mischief, three counts of unlawful eviction, three counts of first-degree offering a false instrument for filing and three counts of first-degree falsifying business records.
They face up to 15 years in prison on the top count of burglary.
Authorities say the brothers owned or otherwise directed JBI Management Inc., Linden Ventures LLC, 324 Central Avenue LLC, Salmor Realty 2, LLC and Salmor Realty LLC, controlling at least four rent-stabilized buildings in northern Brooklyn.
At several of the locations, they allegedly schemed to harass, evict and deny tenants their property rights.
Eyewitness News first covered the Israel brothers back in March of 2014, when tenants claimed Joel Israel was trying to run them out of their residents by intentionally destroying their apartments.
“Like being in a shelter,” tenant Michelle Navas told reporter Josh Einiger at the time. “That’s pretty much how it feels.
Navas said she felt homeless in her very own apartment, where she grew up and lived for 24 years, claiming Israel walled off her kitchen and bathroom, leaving her with no plumbing for nine months.
“He wants us out,” she said. “He wants to evict us. He wants everyone in this building out, so he can raise the rent three or four times from what it is now.”
She said Israel promised to remodel the kitchen and bathroom, but instead left a gaping hole in the floor, right down into the basement.
Here is a detailed account of the allegations, according to the District Attorney’s Office:
98 LINDEN STREET
The District Attorney said that, according to the indictment, the defendants gained control of 98 Linden Street, in Bushwick, in December 2012 by purchasing the building in the name of Linden Ventures LLC. The property was a three-story building with two two-bedroom apartments on each floor. Apartment 1R was occupied by four adults and apartment 1L was occupied four adults and two children. The monthly rent was approximately $650 to $700.
In May 2013, according to the indictment, JBI Management informed the tenants of apartments 1R and 1L that some structural work would be required and that their kitchens and bathrooms would be unavailable to them for several weeks, but that the work would include a renovation of these rooms. On June 4, 2013, the defendants and a worker allegedly visited the apartments and in one day the worker cut out portions of the kitchen floor and pulled down two bathroom walls, rendering the rooms unusable. The kitchen and bathroom were then sealed off from the rest of the apartment with a plywood partition. No further work was done and in August 2013, Aaron Israel visited the building and allegedly told the tenants they had to leave because of the building’s condition. Instead, the tenants hired a lawyer and sued the landlords. They won their case and the landlord was forced to make repairs, which began in August 2014 and continued to December 2014. During that 17-month period the families were forced to rely on a hot plate for cooking and the use of a relative’s bathroom, and in some instances, bathrooms located in local stores and restaurants.
324 CENTRAL AVENUE
It is alleged that the defendants owned and controlled 324 Central Avenue, a three-story building in Bushwick, with two two-bedroom apartments on each floor. In 2005, a tenant began residing in apartment 3A, and in July 2013, the tenant signed a new lease with 324 Central Realty LLC, which was owned and controlled by Joel Israel. The tenant’s rent was $1050 per month. For December 2013 and January 2014 the tenant paid an agreed upon reduced rent because of problems with the heating and lighting.
It is alleged that on the morning of February 27, 2014, the tenant left the apartment for a medical appointment in the morning and returned home at approximately 11 a.m., to find a New York City Marshal blocking the entrance. The tenant called the police, and upon gaining entry to the apartment found that it was destroyed, with the kitchen and bathroom demolished and rendered unusable. The tenant filed a civil action against the defendants and won orders of repossession and repair, but the defendants never made repairs and the tenant never returned to the apartment.
It is alleged that on June 12, 2013, the defendants submitted documents to the New York City Department of Buildings for a work permit in which they falsely claimed that the building would not be occupied at the time of construction and that the building was not subject to the rent stabilization law.
300 NASSAU AVENUE
It is alleged that the defendants controlled 300 Nassau Avenue, a three-story building in Greenpoint with two two-bedroom apartments on each floor. In September 2013, Joel Israel allegedly approached a tenant of one of the apartments and offered her $50,000 to vacate the apartment, which was a rent-stabilized unit. She declined his offer. Prior to his offer, it is alleged, in March 2013, demolition began on the second floor even though tenants still occupied apartments on the first and third floors. As a result of the continuing construction, in October 2013, the tenants lost heat. In December 2013, it is alleged, the service of utilities to 300 Nassau Avenue ceased due to the connections to the building being damaged and the New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development issued a vacate order for the building, forcing the remaining tenants from their homes.
It is further alleged, according to the indictment, that prior to the 2013 construction, on July 6, 2012, Joel Israel filed a work application with the New York City Department of Buildings, which stated that the building would not be occupied during the “gut renovation,” even though multiple tenants did live at that location.
15 HUMBOLDT STREET
It is alleged that the defendants controlled 15 Humboldt Street, a four-story building in Williamsburg with two two-bedroom apartments on each floor, since at least 2010. On August 31, 2010, the defendants allegedly filed a work application with the New York City Department of Buildings seeking permission for renovation of the four floors and the cellar. The application allegedly falsely stated that none of the units would be occupied during construction and that the building was not subject to the rent stabilization law. In fact, rent-stabilized tenants were living in the building while construction was underway. Furthermore, it is alleged, the construction resulted in the use of the cellar as an illegal dwelling.
The District Attorney further stated that none of the tenants of 324 Central Avenue, 300 Nassau Avenue or 15 Humboldt Street was protected from ongoing construction by a Tenant Protection Plan, which was required by the New York City Building Code, because the defendants falsely represented to the New York City Department of Buildings that the building would be unoccupied during construction.
The NYS HCR Tenant Protection Unit, a proactive enforcement unit created by Governor Andrew M. Cuomo in 2012 to root out fraud and corruption in the rent regulation system offered significant assistance in this investigation. The TPU’s involvement with the JBI case began after the Unit received several calls from Brooklyn-based legal services groups concerning allegations of extreme harassment and intimidation in trying to force Brooklyn tenants out of their rent-regulated apartments by creating hazardous living conditions in many of the ten buildings owned by the landlord in Bushwick, Williamsburg, and Greenpoint.