Two Orthodox Jewish landlords pled guilty in a Brooklyn courtroom on Tuesday to destroying apartments in buildings they owned in order to drive out rent-stabilized tenants.
The landlords, Joel and Amrom Israel, will pay $348,000 to their former tenants, who prosecutors say came home to find their Brooklyn apartments damaged by the brothers.
The brothers paid laborers to demolish the bathrooms and kitchens of their tenants, and then left the facilities unusable for months at a time. Holes left by the laborers in the walls let animals enter. The Israel brothers hoped that the rent-regulated tenants would leave so that they could rent the apartments for market rates.
“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,” New York State governor Andrew Cuomo said in a statement.
The brothers pleaded guilty to one count of first-degree scheme to defraud and multiple counts of unlawful eviction. In addition to paying restitution to eight tenants in Bushwick, Greenpoint and Williamsburg buildings they own, they will create a fund to compensate other former tenants, and each will each serve five years of probation and 500 hours of community service.
They are also required to create new policies for the business they control that continue to own rent-regulated apartments, and to hire a monitor who will report to a state office called the Tenant Protection Unit.
“The Israels have chosen to put this matter behind them and are cooperating fully to ensure that the rights of their tenants are protected,” said the attorneys for the Israels, Kevin Keating and John Carman.
Brooklyn’s acting district attorney, Eric Gonzalez, said in a statement the deals should send a message. “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,” he said.
Josh Nathan-Kazis is a staff writer for the Forward. He covers charities and politics, and writes investigations and longform.