A.G. Schneiderman Announces $132K Settlement With Bushwick Landlords For Harassing Tenants With Illegal Buyout Offers
Brooklyn Landlords Harassed Rent-Stabilized Tenants By Failing To Comply With NYC’s Buyout Law; Will Pay $132,000 to Fund Affordable Housing
Settlement Is First-Of-Its-Kind Under The Buyout Law
A.G. Schneiderman Continues To Fight For Stronger State Laws To Criminally Crack Down On Tenant Harassment
Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman recently announced a settlement reached with real estate developers and landlords Graham Jones, Greg Jones, and their related companies for violating anti-harassment law at their three rent-stabilized buildings in Bushwick, Brooklyn. After purchasing the buildings in 2016, the landlords immediately began approaching rent-stabilized tenants to try to convince them to move out of their apartments in exchange for money. These efforts are more commonly known as “buyout offers.” Between June 2016 and July 2017, a total of 33 tenants (more than one-third of the tenants living in the buildings) accepted buyout offers; however the landlords failed to provide these tenants with the required written notice explaining their rights under local law.
“Tenants should never feel harassed into vacating their homes,” said Attorney General Schneiderman. “This settlement makes clear that we will aggressively enforce the law to protect tenants from those who seek to put profit before New Yorkers’ rights — and we’ll continue to fight for the tougher state laws we need to criminally crack down on tenant harassment.”
In 2015, NYC Intro. 700 became law, amending the Housing Maintenance Code’s definition of “harassment” to make it illegal for a landlord to make a buyout offer to a tenant without providing a written notice. The written notice must explain the following: (1) the purpose of the landlord’s contact with the tenant; (2) that the tenant can reject the buyout offer and continue to occupy their unit; (3) that the tenant can seek the guidance of an attorney regarding the buyout offer and can refer to the HPD guide entitled, “The ABCs of Housing”; (4) that the contact is made by or on behalf of the owner; and (5) that the tenant can, in writing, refuse the contact and such refusal would bar contact for 180 days. The law was passed to address intimidation tactics employed by some landlords to pressure tenants to vacate rent-stabilized apartments.
The buildings in this settlement are located in Bushwick, Brooklyn at 920 Bushwick Avenue, 946 Bushwick Avenue, and 1075 Greene Avenue and have 105 apartment units among them. When Graham Jones and Greg Jones bought the buildings in 2016, all apartments were protected by rent stabilization. The landlords immediately began to offer buyouts to tenants without the required written notice, resulting in 33 vacancies within one year. In this rapidly changing neighborhood, newly renovated apartments can demand high rents – unaffordable to the majority of long-term Bushwick tenants.
The Attorney General learned of these practices after remaining tenants complained of the landlords’ aggressive tactics.
Under the settlement obtained by Attorney General Schneiderman, the landlords will pay $132,000 in restitution to the New York City Department of Finance, which will be used by the Department of Housing Preservation and Development to finance housing projects for low-income New Yorkers. The landlords also agreed not to engage in any form of tenant harassment in violation of Section 27-2005(d) of the New York City Municipal Code, including engaging in buyout offers without providing the required written notice.
In May 2017, the Attorney General introduced the Tenant Protection Act of 2017 to criminally crack down on tenant harassment. Attorney General Schneiderman’s efforts against tenant harassment have also included forming a Tenant Harassment Prevention Task Force with city and state officials; launching a team to enhance and streamline the office’s resources to combat tenant harassment, deceptive lending practices, and other housing issues facing constituents; and charging landlords and management companies for alleged illegal practices to harass and endanger rent-regulated tenants.
“This settlement is a victory for tenants’ rights and a validation of our tireless efforts to provide tenants with much-needed protections against unscrupulous landlords,” said City Councilman Jumaane Williams. “Tenants in rent stabilized buildings are especially vulnerable to this kind of predatory harassment, and I’m very pleased that the legislation I passed along with Dan Garodnick and my colleagues on the City Council is providing those victimized with a means to fight back, and to win. I thank Attorney General Schneiderman for vigorously pursuing this case and hope it signals a shift for tenants’ rights citywide.”
“The threat to our City’s affordable housing stock disguises itself in multiple ways including construction as harassment and lack of repairs,” said City Councilman Antonio Reynoso. “As the Council Member representing North Brooklyn and Ridgewood in Queens, Attorney General Schneiderman efforts in tackling buyout offers in the case of Graham and Greg Jones sets a milestone precedent for the City. It sends a strong message to predatory landlords about harassment, accountability, and the law. I applaud the Attorney General in his commitment to preserve rent stabilized units.”
“Today’s action by Attorney General Schneiderman couldn’t come soon enough. Many people in Brooklyn feel the system doesn’t work for them; that the scale has tipped in favor of bad actor landlords and developers. I hear it every day,” said State Senator Martin Malavé Dilan. “What's frustrating, is that it’s all illegal. People don’t have the time and resources to take on these slumlords, and they use that to their advantage. Despite all our outreach, it remains a challenge to make sure people are aware of their rights. These landlords know that too. We’re being fleeced, and it needs to stop now. Affordable housing is being pulled out from under good, hardworking people. I’m happy to say to these developers, not today. I sincerely thank Attorney General Schneiderman for his work on behalf of Brooklynites.”
“I would like to thank Attorney General Eric Schneiderman for defending the rights of hard working New Yorkers. Harassment is despicable tactic used by landlords to force out long term tenants in a bid to make a cheap buck. I pledge to continue to work with my colleagues in the state legislature to fight to protect affordable housing in New York City,” said Assemblymember Maritza Davila.
“Brooklyn Legal Services Corporation A applauds the Attorney General's office in holding the Jones brothers accountable for their predatory actions at the People’s Garden in Bushwick, Brooklyn. For more than a year, Brooklyn A has represented and fought on behalf of the tenants in these buildings. This settlement demonstrates how such egregious behavior by landlords will not be tolerated in New York City,” said Martin S. Needelman, Esq., Executive Director and Chief Counsel, Brooklyn Legal Services Corporation A (Brooklyn A).
This case was handled by the Real Estate Finance Bureau’s Senior Enforcement Counsel Rachel Hannaford and Bureau Chief Brent Meltzer, under the supervision of Executive Deputy Attorney General for Economic Justice Manisha M. Sheth.