East Harlem tenants sue ‘slumlord’ over deplorable conditions, stolen money

a group of people on a stoop in East Harlem
Matthew Latterner of Legal Services speaks during a press conference announcing the lawsuit in East Harlem on March 14, 2024.
Photo courtesy of Community Voices Heard

An East Harlem landlord is allegedly stealing money, forcing poor living conditions and putting people’s lives in danger, a group of fed-up tenants claim in a new lawsuit filed on Thursday.

Nearly 40 tenants who live in five buildings on East 103rd Street allege that the properties’ landlord, Isaac Kassirer and his real estate firm, Emerald Equities, stole tens of thousands of dollars worth of security deposits and “unlawfully commingled them with the landlord’s own operating funds.” 

Matt Latterner, an attorney from Legal Services NYC who is representing the plaintiffs, said that per law, security deposits are not the landlord’s money and must be set aside in trust. 

“This is the tenants’ money that the landlord is holding on to,” Latterner said. “It’s a trust. The landlord isn’t allowed to mix this money up with their own money. They have to put it into segregated bank accounts. That’s the law in New York. Emerald Equities is an entity that mixes private equity money to turbo charge who is essentially a slumlord.” 

The tenants rallied on March 14 on the front stoop of one of the buildings, located at 118 East 103rd St. in East Harlem, after Legal Services NYC and The Legal Aid Society filed the suit, saying that Kassirer is purposely avoiding repair work in an attempt to force them out and flip their rent-stabilized building to market-rate apartments. 

Mold, blocked fire exits, holes in the roof 

The suit also alleges that the buildings contain “rent-impairing violations” of living conditions, including a hole in the roof and blocked fire exits. As a result, dozens of tenants have started to withhold rent. 

“Our landlord, Isaac Kassirer of Emerald Equity Group, doesn’t want to repair the issues in my apartment and my neighbors’ apartments because he wants to kick us out and raise the rent,” tenant, Alexandra Mason, said. “We fight with mold, doors that lock us in from leaving our buildings and heat that suffocates us. We’ve been living with these violations for over six months.”

Man holding sign with dog in East Harlem
Tenant Joe Almaraz with dog Piglet at the East 103rd Street building in East Harlem

Joe Almaraz, a tenant who has lived in one of the 103 Street buildings for three years, is so frustrated with being ignored by the owners and superintendent, that he now finds it easier to do minor repairs himself, both for his’ and his neighbors’ well being.

Recently, he helped clear a tenant’s pipes and was shocked at what he found. 

“During the work, I found out there was actually a hole in the U neck at the bottom of a sink, which was causing a leak,” Almaraz said. “But there was so much grime on the inside of the pipe that that’s what was causing the stoppage and preventing a larger leak from the sink. There was literally a hole the size of a dime.”

He has helped with other superintendent-type work, too, including repairs on washers that do not drain and dryers that do not dry.

Package theft

Package theft is another problem at Almaraz’s building, so much so that he personally delivers packages to his neighbors who live on his floor. 

“Tenants have had a lot of packages get stolen,” he said. “I got married about a year ago, and a lot of stuff from our wedding registry never made it.  We lost quite a bit. So now every time I come up, because I live on the fifth floor, I bring packages to people’s doors, as long as I have the hand space.”

The tenants and their lawyers said they decided to go to court “after months of efforts to get Emerald Equities to fix these issues and come clean about the stolen security deposits.”

amNewYork Metro reached out to Emerald Equities to comment but did not hear back.