Tenant harassment suit against Bushwick landlords settled for $132G, Schneiderman says

Brooklyn landlords have agreed to pay $132,000 in a tenant harassment lawsuit settlement, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said on Friday, Nov. 3, 2017. / Jeff Bachner

Two Brooklyn landlords accused of harassing rent-stabilized tenants with buyout offers have reached a $132,000 settlement with the state over their practices, New York Attorney General Eric Scheniderman announced Friday.

Gregory and Graham Jones, two brothers who founded Manhattan-based GRJ LLC in 2010, tried to convince tenants of three Bushwick buildings to move out in exchange for money, according to Schneiderman’s office. The real estate developers, who have owned the buildings since June 2016, failed to comply with a law that mandates landlords provide tenants with a notice before extending buyout offers, the attorney general’s office said.

There are a total of 105 units in the three buildings. Of those, 33 tenants from 920 and 946 Bushwick Ave., and 1075 Greene Ave., vacated their rent-stabilized homes between June 2016 and June 2017, after the owners offered them illegal buyout offers without a notice, according to Schneiderman’s office.

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“Tenants should never feel harassed into vacating their homes,” Schneiderman said in an emailed statement Friday.

According to the housing law, the notice must detail the landlord’s reason for contacting the tenant. It should also allow the tenant an option to reject the offer without any consequences, hire an attorney and refuse contact with the landlord for 180 days, per the attorney general’s office.

The landlords argued that they were unaware of any such law, according to the settlement.

“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,” Schneiderman said.

The $132,000 gained from holding the Joneses accountable will be allotted to the Department of Housing Preservation and Development, which will utilize the funds to develop low-income housing projects in the city, the details of which are yet to be determined, according to HPD.

“Our top concern is that our city’s residents live in safe and secure homes,” HPD said in an emailed statement. The organization wants to let landlords know that “if they engage in tenant harassment, they will face consequences.”

Several initiatives geared toward protecting tenants’ rights have been launched by city and state officials, including the creation of the Tenant Harassment Prevention Task Force in February 2015. Established through the joint efforts of Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Mayor Bill de Blasio and Schneiderman, the task force aims to hold unlawful landlords accountable and protect tenants’ rights, according to the attorney general’s office.

In May, the attorney general introduced the Tenant Protection Act of 2017, which his team said aims to hold “New York’s most unscrupulous landlords criminally accountable for tenant harassment.” It was passed by the state Assembly in June, but the Senate has yet to vote on it.

As part of an ongoing crackdown against illegal landlord tactics, de Blasio signed 18 pieces of legislation on Aug. 30 that make it easier for tenants to take landlords to court. The legislation also increased penalties on unlawful behavior, according to the mayor’s office.