Landlords Spared Jail After Admitting to Making Life Unbearable for Tenants were Treated Too Easy, According to Legal Aid

Though two Brooklyn landlords pleaded guilty to destroying apartments and making them uninhabitable, Judith Goldiner, Attorney-in-Charge of the Civil Practice’s Law Reform Unit, said the lack of any incarceration was too lenient an outcome and a troubling message to other landlords.

In late November, Joel and Amrom Israel, the owners and managers of approximately 10 buildings, pleaded to first-degree scheme to defraud and various counts of unlawful eviction after their efforts to push out rent-stabilized tenants and collect more expensive market-rate rents. The landlords’ actions created unsafe conditions and, for example, resulted in tenants having to live for months without cooking facilities or plumbing. The terms of their plea agreement included probation, community service and about $248,000 in restitution to eight harassed tenants – yet no term of incarceration. Their guilty plea also settled separate claims initiated by Governor Andrew Cuomo’s Tenant Protection Unit.

"If anyone richly deserved to go to jail, it was the Israel brothers." Goldiner told Gothamist. Legal Aid represented one of the landlords’ tenants in a civil action. "Landlords will look at this as the cost of doing business," Goldiner said.

No Jail Time For Slumlords Who Drove Out Rent-Stabilized Tenants
By Raphael Pope-Sussman
November 29, 2016

Two sleazy Brooklyn landlords accused of turning their buildings into barely habitable hellholes will be spared jail time after pleading guilty to a scheme to drive out rent-stabilized tenants.

According to a press release from Brooklyn District Attorney's Office, brothers Joel and Amrom Israel have copped to charges that they gutted buildings they own in north Brooklyn in an effort to make life unbearable for their tenants.

While one might hope that destroying a building's boiler or smashing giant holes in tenants' apartments would merit at least some time in prison, the Israel brothers won't be doing any time behind bars. Under the terms of the plea deal, they were sentenced to five years of probation and 500 hours of community service. They were also ordered to pay $248,000 in restitution to eight tenants who were victimized in their scheme.

The plea also resolves a parallel civil case brought by the Governor's Tenant Protection Unit, which the brothers agreed to settle. As part of the settlement agreement, they agreed to retain an independent monitor—for the next five years—to make sure they aren't harassing their tenants, and to pay $100,000 into a compensation fund for tenants they scammed.

Kevin Keating and John Carman, attorneys for the Israels, issued a statement saying their clients are moving forward after the plea. "The Israels have chosen to put this matter behind them and are cooperating fully to ensure that the rights of their tenants are protected," they said.

Acting District Attorney Eric Gonzalez hailed the deal as a victory for Brooklyn's tenants. "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 in a statement.

But Judith Goldiner, attorney-in-charge at the Law Reform Unit of The Legal Aid Society, which represented one of the Israels' tenants in a civil suit, said the brothers got off far too easy. "If anyone richly deserved to go to jail, it was the Israel brothers," she said. "Landlords will look at this as the cost of doing business."