After many months of inaction, a pair of crooked Brooklyn landlords may finally be getting their comeuppance. Joel and Aaron Israel, renowned for torturing their rent-stabilized tenants by demolishing large swaths of their apartments without permission, are on the verge of having at least one of their properties seized by Housing Court.
The tenants of 98 Linden Street have been living in ruins for nearly a year, after the Israels allegedly sent a crew to smash apart the apartment's kitchen and bathroom under the auspices of "making needed repairs." Now, the Department of Housing Preservation and Development has announced that the case has been brought before Housing Court, with the intention of removing the Israels and instating an independent administrator until the damage is fixed.
The brothers, who operate under the name JBI Management, have also been served a subpoena by the state Tenant Protection Unit to produce documents associated with their 10 apartments around Brooklyn. A lawsuit has also been filed on behalf of the residents at 98 Linden, though proceedings have dragged on for several months now, frustrating tenants still forced to live in a semi-operable apartment.
Such bullying is increasingly common in rapidly gentrifying Brooklyn, where shady landlords are acutely aware of just how much in rent they can wring from wealthy newcomers. Between the motivation of more money and the city's flimsy housing laws, landlords are taking drastic steps to empty their units.
"The incentive for these landlords to kick out their long-term rent stabilized tenants is high, because obviously market rate rents are completely through the roof," Greg Hanlon, a spokesperson for the non-profit St. Nick's Alliance, told us in February. "It seems far-fetched to picture these landlords messing up their own buildings, but they obviously made the calculation."
The scale of the damage to 98 Linden might be striking, but it's not unique. Tenants at numerous other Israel-owned properties have similarly depressing tales: Catalina Hidalgo, a decade-long resident at 300 Nassau, arrived home one day to find that someone had taken an axe to her building's boilers, forcing her and her small children to move out. Silveria Hormiga-Rey lived in her third floor apartment at 324 Central Avenue for nearly nine years—that is, until the Israel's smashed up its entire rear portion.
It's taken months, but the Israel's malfeasance has finally caught the attention of officials on the state level.
“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,” Governor Andrew 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.”