NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — Gov. Andrew Cuomo has stepped in the middle of an ongoing battle between a landlord and his Brooklyn tenants who claim their rent-stabilized apartments were destroyed in an effort to force them out.
As CBS 2’s Sonia Rincon reported, the governor’s Tenant Protection Unit is now investigating landlord Joel Israel’s company, JBI Management, for harassment and illegal eviction of tenants and has served it with a subpoena. JBI owns 10 buildings in Brooklyn.
“It is not only unconscionable, but it is flat out illegal for any landlord to subject families to living without running water or a functioning bathroom or kitchen,” Cuomo said in a statement. ” … Today we are sending a clear message that this type of behavior will not be tolerated and that we will fight to keep New York families protected and safe.”
Richard White, deputy commissioner of the state Department of Housing and Community Renewal, which oversees the Tenant Protection Unit, said the agency was created two years ago for cases like this, which the city’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development can’t fight alone. The goal is to use state leverage to broker a settlement.
The subpoena is “going to demand various documents and records,” White said. “It’s going to look at their business practices. It’s going to force them and require them to answer a series of questions.”
The agency “can provide financial retribution to the tenants who have been treated badly and, more importantly, those tenants who have been treated badly have the opportunity to come home to a safe environment, and that’s the governor’s goal,” White said.
Noelia Calero and her family, who live at 98 Linden St. in Bushwick, are among those whose lives have been impacted. Eleven months ago, Israel had their bathroom and kitchen torn apart. A temporary wall now blocks off that part of the apartment.
Carlero’s family has been fighting to hold Israel accountable. They’re thrilled to hear their case has gotten Cuomo’s attention.
“We feel like finally they’re taking action, and they’re here to help us,” Calero told Rincon.
The HPD told Rincon it has started the process of requesting a court-appointed administration for 98 Linden St. That means when repairs are made, Israel won’t be the one choosing the contractors.
“If they win, an administrator would be appointed, and rent collection and repairs would be done by that administrator,” said attorney Brent Meltzer, who represents the tenants. “And I think the tenants would be very happy about that outcome if it were to occur because they don’t trust Joel Israel. He says he’s going to come in to do repairs, and he smashes things.”
Between the state investigation and the city’s effort to get the building out of Israel’s control, Meltzer said the tenants could finally start to see some results.
“In some ways, it’s a really nice one-two punch to have the state say, ‘What are you doing?,’ and, at the same time, HPD saying, “You know what, you’re not going to get to do that at this building.
“Hopefully before summertime we’ll have our kitchen and our bathroom back. That’s what we’re hoping for.”
Glenn Spiegel, attorney for JBI Management, issued a statement to CBS 2 saying an independent engineer told the company that Calero’s family needed to temporarily vacate the apartment so that structural defects could be repaired.
“We are prepared to do that work but have also been blocked from doing so since the tenants refuse to temporarily vacate,” Spiegel said. “We want to repair these units — safely and quickly. We will provide temporary housing and welcome the tenants back when the work is safely done. “
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