A $20.7 million lawsuit implicates a ring of real estate agents and companies posting multiple listings on sites like Airbnb, HomeAway and VRBO.
Liberal New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio is rolling out a new plan that would potentially allow the city government to seize buildings of landlords who force tenants out — a plan his opponents say amounts to “straight communism.”
De Blasio, in his State of the City address on Thursday, announced he wants to take action against landlords who try to force tenants out by making the property unliveable — and pulled out an executive order to create a Mayor’s Office to Protect Tenants. He said that in the event the government intervenes, the buildings would then be controlled by a “community nonprofit.”
“When a landlord tries to push out a tenant by making their home unlivable, a team of inspectors and law enforcement agents will be on the ground to stop it in time,” he said, according to the New York Daily News. “If the fines and the penalties don’t cut it, we will seize their buildings and we will put them in the hands of a community nonprofit that will treat tenants with the respect they deserve.”
According to the mayor’s website, the city is “pursuing new local law to seize upwards of 40 of the most distressed multiple dwelling buildings annually and transition them to responsible, mission driven ownership.”
The city reportedly has gone easy on problem landlords in the past. The New York Times reported last year that officials have taken a “gentle hand with landlords who deprive tenants of basic services, declining to enforce the maximum penalties for even the worst offenders,” detailing how “neglected repairs” end up forcing tenants out.
“Health care is a right, not a privilege reserved for those who can afford it,” de Blasio said in a statement. “While the federal government works to gut health care for millions of Americans, New York City is leading the way by guaranteeing that every New Yorker has access to quality, comprehensive access to care, regardless of immigration status or their ability to pay.”
“I think people all over this city, of every background, would like to have the city government be able to determine which building goes where, how high it will be, who gets to live in it, what the rent will be,” he said. “Look, if I had my druthers, the city government would determine every single plot of land, how development would proceed. And there would be very stringent requirements around income levels and rents.”
On Sunday, he said in an interview that he wouldn’t rule out running for president in 2020, and urged the Democratic Party to take “bolder” positions similar to his own.
“There is still a lot of moderate voices in the party that did not learn the lessons of 2016 and are not listening to what people need in this country,” de Blasio said. “So I want to push this whole party, and I want to inform this debate in this country about the fact that we could go a lot further, we could be a lot bolder than what we’re doing now.”
Republicans, though, were disturbed by the extent of Hizzoner’s plan and charged the idea was more suited to communist dictatorships where land and property seizures are commonplace.
“My first reaction was: Is this communist Cuba?” state Assemblymember Nicole Malliotakis, who ran against De Blasio in the 2017 mayoral race, told Fox News. “ I can say that as a daughter of Cuban refugees who fled Castro’s Cuba in 1959, this is what happened to her family, she had her home taken, my grandfather had his gas station taken.”
“This is extreme even for Mayor de Blasio, because we know that he has socialist leanings, but this is straight communism and I think it’s very scary to America-loving, democracy-loving people.”
Malliotakis said the proposal was also hypocritical of the mayor, as she says the city runs some of the worst housing via the NYC Housing Authority. She also expressed some doubt as to how his plan to seize property would fare.
“Any attempt to seize property will face a court challenge and the mayor himself comes up with these ideas, throws stuff out there and doesn’t know how he intends to make it happen,” she said. “It’s all rhetoric.”
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NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) – An apartment battle in the Brooklyn between rent-stabilized tenants and their landlord is getting heated.
Residents claim they’re being forced out with a construction nightmare and now they’re fighting back.
CBS2 first told you about the tenants at 97 and 99 Clay Street last week. They claim their landlord is using construction to harass them in an effort to drive them from their rent-stabilized apartments.
They add they’ve enduring leaking ceilings, construction debris, and the threat of rats in their building. Now they’re rallying for their rights.
“The owners are sidestepping accountability,” tenant George Manatos said.
The property is run by a company called “Perfect Management,” under LJC Towers LLC, but the address leads to this shipping store filled with non-descript mailboxes.
“You can’t talk to a mailbox, there’s no one to talk to and they don’t want you talking to them, they don’t even want you know who they are,” Williamsburg resident Phil Smrek explained.
Smrek says he endured the same kind of abuse and knows the game landlords play all too well; especially when it comes to construction violations.
“I’ve seen them pay the fines like parking tickets, $5,000, $10,000… when you’re talking about $20 million properties, a $5,000 fine is nothing so there has to be actual prosecution and prison time for these landlords.
CBS2 reached out to the city’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development which investigates tenant harassment. The agency said it rejects “mail drop addresses” like this location.
“Many times they have the buildings listed under DOB with one owner and under HPD with a different owner. They drop letters in their last names, they change their spelling, it’s very shrouded, they’re under LLC’s.
CBS2 checked the address for LJC Towers LLC on the HPD website; it’s not at Lee Avenue where they claim, but a building on Manhattan Avenue that says Perfect Management on the door.
CBS2’s Valerie Castro rang their buzzer to ask some questions, but while she was waiting they turned the lights out.
Then, despite seeing someone just inside the doorway, CBS2 was ignored by the building’s occupants.
A representative from state senator Julia Salazar’s office says it’ll likely take legislative action for things to change.
“We’re going to work on it, this is definitely something we’re focused on,” Alvin Pena claimed.
For now, tenants say they’ll keep fighting for their rights in Williamsburg.
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Hillside House at 87-40 165th Street in Jamaica, NY. Dennis A. Clark
If Mayor de Blasio wants to make good on his vow to protect New Yorkers from slumlords, he can start at this Queens hellhole.
City inspectors have slapped 87-40 165th St. and its landlord, Eric Silverstein, with more than 1,000 violations worth nearly $4 million in fines since de Blasio took office in 2014, but have only moved to collect $138,600 from him, public records show.
“Once those violations are recorded, there is a disconnect on following up,” said Nelson Yeung, a lawyer representing tenants in a suit against Silverstein. “There’s no one to make sure these violations are fixed.”
With the city’s light touch giving Silverstein — No. 1 on the public advocate’s 2018 list of the city’s worst private landlords — little incentive to make repairs, tenants say they continue to languish among vermin infestations, leaky windows and rampant mold.
“I’m ashamed to have people over,” said Stella, a nurse and fifth-floor resident who requested that her last name be withheld.
Among the squalid living conditions Stella has to endure in the six-story, 118-unit Jamaica building are a nagging roach problem, leaks in the kitchen and a broken mailbox that forces her to pick up her mail at the post office.
“The city should hold people accountable,” said Stella — and de Blasio claims to agree.
“We’ll fine the landlords. We’ll penalize the landlords,” Hizzoner pledged in his State of the City address last week. “But if the fines and the penalties don’t cut it, we will seize their buildings.”
The Department of Housing Preservation and Development has had no trouble finding problems, hitting the building with 1,104 violations since 2014, records show. But only 797 of the violations have been remediated as of Thursday, as the department has dragged its feet on hauling Silverstein into court.
Even the $138,600 that has been levied isn’t technically part of the fines, but a fee for the building’s compulsory enrollment in the Alternative Enforcement Program, records show.
The department has insisted that it is “aggressively using every available tool to . . . secure needed relief for residents.”
City Hall agreed, saying, “This administration is committed to using every tool available — and creating new ones — to protect tenants across the city.”
But Hizzoner’s record shows anything but a crackdown.
A recent New York Times investigation found that the department went easy on Manhattan slumlords, settling two-thirds of the 126 cases it brought for just a fraction of the penalties it could have collected.
And a front-page Post story earlier this month revealed a similar pattern of neglect at Brooklyn’s Ebbets Field Apartments.
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As part of an effort to crackdown on Airbnb, the city is now taking aim at the Torkian Group, claiming the landlord has continued to market and lease illegal short-term rentals despite previous warnings from officials.
In a new lawsuit, the De Blasio administration claims there were 1,029 short-term rental deals in the landlord’s buildings between February 2015 and October 2018. The transactions involved 13 different apartments in 110 Greenwich Street, 311 West 50th Street and 488 Seventh Avenue, which generated more than $1.1 million in revenue, according to the complaint filed in New York Supreme Court on Wednesday.
The city alleges that the landlord had at least 44 illegal listings during that period, most of which appeared on Airbnb, though a handful were also on HomeAway and TripAdvisor. In New York, the vast majority of landlords are prohibited from renting apartments for less than 30 days in homes where the host is not present.
According to the lawsuit, from 2015 to September 2018. the city filed 23 violations and imposed $64,800 in fines against the landlord for doing just that. Though Torkian filed certifications of correction, the landlord has “shown they will not stop the illegal transient occupancy unless ordered to do so by the court,” the complaint alleges.
Representatives for the landlord did not return multiple requests seeking comment.
The lawsuit also names Bedrose — a brokerage and property manager that specializes in short-term rentals — as a defendant, alleging the company illegally advertised short-term rentals at the Torkian buildings as well as at approximately 19 other buildings.
According to the complaint, Bedrose hid its illegal short-term rental business in various ways, including using fake host names on Airbnb and changing the addresses of the buildings slightly. The company also allegedly instructed guests to sign fake leases and instructed them to lie to city officials if questioned about the terms of their stay at the apartments.
David Tordjman, executive vice president of Norman Bobrow & Co. and a broker with Bedrose who is named as a defendant of the lawsuit, could not be reached for comment.
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From left to right: Tom Elghanayan, Fred Elghanayan and Henry Elghanayan. CHESTER HIGGINS JR/THE NEW YORK TIMES/REDUX
Amid the news about Amazon’s HQ2 announcement—the e-commerce giant chose New York’s Long Island City and northern Virginia’s Crystal City as the victors of its nationwide search—there’s the question of who in the real estate world is jumping for joy at the new opportunities. That likely includes a trio of low-profile billionaire brothers and real estate titan Jerry Speyer.
The Elghanayan family, which was worth more than $2 billion in 2015 when Forbes last estimated their fortune, traces their wealth back to Nourollah Elghanayan, an Iranian-native who started buying land in Manhattan in the 1950s and 1960s. His three sons, Tom, Fred and Henry, expanded the family business throughout Manhattan and Queens, acquiring and developing iconic buildings such as FBI’s former New York City headquarters and the Carnegie Hall Tower. In 2009, the family split up their holdings amid disagreements over succession plans. Henry reportedly won a coin toss and chose the Rockrose name and a portfolio of development sites and residential buildings; Tom and Fred took the rest, including more than 5,000 apartment units and properties in Long Island City, and rolled them into an entity called TF Cornerstone.
Since then, Tom and Fred Elghanayan have capitalized on New York’s up-and-coming neighborhoods, building gleaming luxury rental apartment towers in Manhattan’s Hell’s Kitchen and in downtown Brooklyn. But it’s their bet in Long Island City that may prove to be the most prescient. In addition to two rental apartment towers the Elghanayans transferred to TF Cornerstone, the brothers have purchased or built four more rental buildings in the past six years, giving them over 3,000 rental units in Long Island City’s waterfront community of Queens West.
In July 2017, TF Cornerstone furthered its move into Long Island City, winning a proposal to redevelop two city-owned sites in Anable Basin, a waterfront district neighboring Queens West. Its winning bid calls for a 1.5 million square feet mixed-use project with 1,000 rental units, commercial, retail and light industrial spaces, and public park areas. Just months later, Plaxall—another family firm that manages over one million square feet of real estate—submitted plans to rezone nearly 15 acres of the Anable Basin into a mixed-use development spanning almost 6 million square feet.
Now the sketches of glass towers and open air parks have been fast tracked to reality as Amazon sets its sights on the Anable Basin. According to the Seattle company’s memorandum of understanding with New York, it has circled the Anable Basin area as its target site for HQ2. TF Cornerstone confirmed that it will partner with Amazon to build out its project. “As a family-owned company founded by Queens natives, TF Cornerstone is proud to welcome Amazon to Long Island City, bringing new jobs to the borough and preserving significant public benefits,” says Jake Elghanayan, a principal at TF Cornerstone and a son of Tom Elghanayan.
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With Amazon planning to take up 4 million square feet of office space over the next decade (and bringing on 25,000 workers), the Elghanayans are in prime position to take advantage of the increasing demand for office real estate and new apartments. With excitement already building in Long Island City, Tom and Fred’s fortune looks to be getting a boost in the near future.
But Henry Elghanayan, who runs his own firm Rockrose Development Corp., didn’t make out so badly either. The former lawyer, whose collection of development sites included several in Long Island City, erected his own luxury rentals near the One Court Square area, constructing nearly 2,500 units across three towers in the past six years. With another building due to open in 2019, and an older waterfront property that Henry received when the brothers split up, his Rockrose will be a major landlord in Long Island City with nearly 3,000 rental apartments.
Another big winner in Amazon’s decision is real estate firm Tishman Speyer’s billionaire chairman Jerry Speyer. Speyer started the real estate giant, which has developed over 167 million square feet of space from Chicago to Berlin, in 1978 with his father-in-law Robert Tishman. Son Rob Speyer is now CEO and oversees the company’s operations. While famous for redeveloping iconic skyscrapers like Manhattan’s Chrysler building and Rockefeller Center, Tishman Speyer has also become a major player in the transformation of Long Island City. The firm claims to be the area’s most prolific residential and office developer and says it will have completed construction on 3.7 million square feet in the neighborhood by end of next year.
A decade ago, the New York firm broke ground on Two Gotham Center, a 22-story office tower just a 20-minutes stroll from Anable Basin. Tishman Speyer sold the completed building to Canadian firm H&R REIT in 2011 but continued on, partnering with H&R and Qatar’s sovereign wealth fund to develop two office and retail towers named the JACX, and three rental apartment towers named Jackson Park.
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