One of the most notorious cases of alleged tenant harassment in the city came to an end recently, when three families moved back into 300 Nassau Avenue, a three-story apartment building in Greenpoint, Brooklyn.
One morning in December 2013, someone took a sledgehammer to the building's boiler, fuse box and water lines. Juan-Carlos Palaomino was at home that morning when the lights went out.
"So when I check it out downstairs I hear a sound like water splashing, like the main pipes got busted."
The city's buildings department forced everyone to vacate the building, saying it was unsafe. The tenants moved in with relatives or family shelters. They brought their case to housing court, arguing the landlord, Joel Israel, caused the vandalism in order to get rid of them and replace them with higher-paying tenants. While the housing judge didn't determine who caused the damage, she took control of the building away from Israel and ordered a third party to start making repairs.
"This is a picture of what is happening in the borough of Brooklyn and New York City," said Adam Meyers, the attorney for Brooklyn Legal Services Corporation A who represented the tenants in court. "There's such a desperate need for housing, the prices are so crazy and the landlords in cases like this just do crazy things."
But it took nearly three years for the case to wind through housing court and for the repairs to be completed (at a cost of $565,000, which was loaned by the city's Department of Housing Preservation and Development and placed as a lien against the property).
Nearly 900 tenants in New York City file harassment lawsuits against their landlords each year. In some cases, the tenants are forced to leave and never come back.
"In most of the cases, tenants just give up," said Rolando Guzman, deputy director of community preservation at St. Nicks Alliance, a community group that organized the 300 Nassau Avenue tenants.
The de Blasio administration, as well as the state and attorney's general office, have recently taken steps to assist tenants, such as increasing legal aid and prosecuting landlords.
The building at 300 Nassau was not the only place that the landlord, Joel Israel, was accused of damaging in order to push rent-regulated tenants out. He and his brother, Aaron, are due in criminal court soon on separate but related charges including fraud, burglary and unlawful eviction. They've maintained their innocence.