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Bushwick Landlord Accused Of Trying To Force Rent-Stabilized Tenants Out Testifies For First Time

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NEW YORK (CBSNewYork)A notorious Brooklyn landlord was in court on Friday answering questions about why he hasn’t made repairs to one of the Bushwick apartments he had partially demolished, allegedly to drive out longtime rent-stabilized tenants.

As CBS 2’s Sonia Rincon reported, Joel Israel testified for the first time at his contempt hearing for not making repairs at 98 Linden St. as he has agreed to do.

Ten months ago, Israel ordered the kitchen and bathroom demolished, allegedly without a permit. CBS 2 exclusively reported on the tenants’ complaints in February in the Linden Street building, as well as another building Israel owns with his brother.

Attorneys for the tenants are asking for civil penalties and for him to be thrown in jail.

Israel, who owns a number of buildings, has been cited with 85 code violations at 98 Linden St., as well as hundreds of other violations at a half dozen other buildings.

Israel testified that the tenants didn’t give him or his contractors access and that they need to vacate because his experts claim it’s not safe.

“He claims that my clients didn’t allow them in, which makes no sense because why would they deny him access so that they wouldn’t have a kitchen and bathroom,” Brent Meltzer with Legal Services NYC told Rincon outside court.

“He was lying. He keeps lying about why he’s not fixing the building. What we don’t understand is why HPD’s not doing anything to force him to fix it…10 months of no bathroom, no kitchen,” tenant Noelia Calero said.

The Department of Housing Preservation and Development – or HPD – said it is on the case and others involving Israel and is holding him accountable.

New York City Public Advocate Letitia James said the agency can do more.

“HPD can immediately go in and fix the conditions. What has happened is that this is nothing more than what they refer to as a constructive eviction. For all intents and purposes, these individuals have been evicted from their apartments, and so HPD can go in and they can correct the situation and they can bill the landlord,” said James.

HPD has denied a request for an interview but a spokesperson said the repairs needed in these cases are too extreme. HPD said its Emergency Repairs Program can replace a broken toilet or a boiler or get rid of lead paint but not rebuild entire floors and walls.

Israel and his attorney released a written statement Friday, reading:

“My clients are ready to make the repairs. We are seeking the court’s assistance to obtain the access necessary to get the repairs done as quickly and safely as possible.”

Earlier this week, Rincon asked Mayor Bill de Blasio what can be done in the short term to help Israel’s tenants. The mayor said he wasn’t familiar with the case.

“Obviously you know from the work that I did as [public] advocate, we are very forceful when it comes to landlords who have not been following the laws,” said de Blasio.

“Mr. Mayor,” tenant Gloria Corea said through translation, “please send us some help because we need it.”

The case resumes Tuesday with experts testifying for the landlord, followed by experts on the tenants’ side.

The housing court ordered several months ago that the rent in the apartments be reduced to a dollar per month until repairs are completed.

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