(Image: Wikipedia)

(Image: Wikipedia)

New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman filed a lawsuit today against the property manager and landlords of several apartment buildings in Chinatown and the Lower East Side for allegedly harassing rent-controlled tenants with “repeated illegal and deceptive practices.”  The complaint, filed in New York Supreme Court, accuses the buildings’ owners and Marolda Properties Inc., which manages the buildings, of attempting to bully tenants into vacating rent-regulated units using a variety of improper tactics.

The state alleges that the defendants repeatedly served tenants with notices informing them that they would face eviction from their rent-regulated units if they did not voluntarily leave at the end of their leases, on the grounds that the tenants did not actually reside in their apartments. But in the notices, Marolda Properties and the building owners “frequently failed to provide even minimally specific factual support for their claims that the tenants’ apartments were not their primary residences,” according to the lawsuit. Frequently, according to prosecutors, the tenants, many of whom speak little English, had actually lived in their apartments for years, and in several cases tenants were accused of living elsewhere despite frequently interacting with superintendents and repairmen in their buildings.

The defendants repeatedly refused to offer renewal leases to rent-controlled tenants despite being required to do so by law, according to the complaint, and would frequently offer tenants “unconscionably low buyouts” after taking, or threatening to take, legal action to remove them from their homes. Prosecutors claim that the defendants engaged in these practices in an “effort to wear rent-regulated tenants down” so that they would vacate their apartments, allowing Marolda Properties and the building owners to “raise the legal regulated rent for these apartments or deregulate them altogether, thus increasing their profits.”

Additionally, the lawsuit accuses the defendants of “overcharging tenants, failing to properly account for rent paid, ignoring requests for repairs and conducting unnecessarily burdensome and obstructive repairs and renovations.” Methods allegedly used by the defendants to harass rent-regulated tenants include locking tenants out of buildings, repeatedly installing new locks and charging up to $100 for extra keys, and removing tenants’ belongings from their apartments while they weren’t home. In one case at 13-15 Essex Street, the suit alleges that a toilet used by two elderly residents was removed in early August and never replaced despite their complaints, forcing the tenants to climb three flights of stairs to use a bathroom on a different floor. The same tenants’ stove has been without gas since February of this year, according to the complaint.

Marolda Properties, owned by members of the Marolda family, manages properties throughout New York City, including the apartment buildings with rent-controlled units in Chinatown and the Lower East Side involved in this case at 83-85 Baxter Street, 13 Essex Street, 15 Essex Street, 72 Forsyth Street, 74 Forsyth Street, 100-102 Forsyth Street, 104 Forsyth Street, 7 Rivington Street, 90 Elizabeth Street, 65 Ludlow Street, and 145 Avenue C. According to prosecutors, many of the buildings involved in this suit are or were owned by the Marolda family, in partnership with others, through various LLCs. Marolda Properties could not be reached for comment.

The attorney general’s office seeks a court order for the defendants to halt the practices alleged in the complaint, along with penalties, increased future oversight of the defendants, and damages for the affected tenants.

The investigation that led to the lawsuit was initiated by the Tenant Protection Unit of the state’s Division of Housing and Community Renewal in response to complaints from local groups.

“New York State will not tolerate landlords who profit from unlawful schemes and prey on vulnerable New Yorkers,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo said in a press release announcing the lawsuit. “We created the Tenant Protection Unit to ensure that those who seek to extract exorbitant rents from tenants in rent-regulated apartments will be held accountable and this lawsuit is a testament to its success.”

Cathy Dang, executive director of CAAAV Organizing Asian Communities, explained that her organization began working with tenants in Marolda buildings in 2013 after receiving reports of harassment; tenants from several buildings organized and requested that the Tenant Protection Unit look into their cases. “The lawsuit started because residents came together and pushed for it,” she said.

Dang views the allegations against Marolda Properties as representative of larger housing issues facing the community. “We know that it will take a combination of tactics and tools that include filing lawsuits and organizing direct action to make sure that landlords are held accountable, and that Marolda is no different from any of the other predatory landlords in Chinatown and the Lower East Side,” she said. “They need to be aware that tenants’ organizations are not going to let this happen, and that if they harass tenants and try to displace residents, we will fight back.”

Bedford + Bowery acquired a copy of the complaint from the attorney general’s office, which is available in full below:

Marolda Complaint by BedfordandBowery on Scribd