A pair of Brooklyn landlords who renters have said intentionally sabotaged their rent-stabilized apartment to drive them out were arrested on fraud charges, authorities say.
Joel and Aaron Israel were arraigned in Brooklyn court Thursday on multiple charges, including scheming to defraud. They pleaded not guilty in the 15-count indictment.
The Brooklyn district attorney stood in front of the Israels' building at 98 Linden St. to announce the charges Thursday afternoon.
Tenants living in rent-regulated buildings owned by the Israels have publicly complained that the pair had intentionally wrecked apartments or let them fall into hazardous disrepair in efforts to force them to leave so the brothers could in turn rent the apartments at higher rates.
"They had someone move into one of the apartments here, who walked around with pitbulls, carried a sledgehammer, a bat, and would walk into one of the tenants' homes unannounced, without permission," said District Attorney Ken Thompson as he described how the landlords allegedly tried to intimidate the tenants.
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One tenant, Juan Carlos Palomino, told the I-Team last year that a man went into the basement and tore apart the building’s wiring and water pipes in an effort to get them to leave.
“Our water heater and gas lines were destroyed... I know this is our landlord's attempt to kick us out," Palomino said after the confrontation in 2014.
Another tenant told NBC 4 New York last year that the Israels demolished the interior of their Bushwick apartment after requesting to get inside for work. The floors of the apartment had been ripped up and the family could only stay in the home because another tenant upstairs allowed them to use their kitchen.
"It's been a long battle, very long," said tenant Michelle Crespo. "Eighteen months living this way, without a kitchen or a bathroom."
"I feel like it's finally justice. He's finally where he should have been months ago," said Noela Calero, another tenant.
The Israels own or manage at least 10 buildings with 53 units, all in Brooklyn. In all, there are 482 open housing code violations associated with their properties, according to records. Of those, 145 are at Palomino's building, 300 Nassau Ave., which has been deemed uninhabitable by the city, leaving tenants without a place to live.
Joel Israel avoided the I-Team on two separate occasions in 2014, failing to answer questions, denying his identity and finally running away.
Housing advocates say the claims against Israel are not unique, citing nearly a dozen recent examples of alleged sabotage, usually in rent-stabilized apartments in neighborhoods like Williamsburg, Bushwick and Greenpoint, where market rents are skyrocketing.
A spokesman for the city department of Housing Preservation and Development had said the agency is fighting Joel Israel in court, trying to force him to repair the violations and damage and pay civil penalties. HPD supported the tenants’ suit, which sought to put an independent manager in the building to cover the repairs.
Public Advocate Letitia James has called Joel Israel “one of the worst landlords in the city.”
The Israels' attorney, Kevin Keating, said Thursday they would "vigorously' fight the allegations in court.