Famously awful Bushwick landlord Joel Israel (a top contender for the “Worst Landlord in Brooklyn” mantle) is finally on trial for destroying the apartments of his rent-stabilized tenants in hopes renting them out to newcomers at market-rate prices, along with his brother Aaron Israel. His rock-solid legal defense? The tenants just brought this all on themselves!
During his testimony on Friday, Israel claimed that tenants had refused access to contractors attempting to make “necessary repairs” after he’d allegedly had workers come in while tenants weren’t home and rip out entire kitchens and bathrooms. He and his attorney also released a statement that read, “My clients are ready to make the repairs. We are seeking the court’s assistance to obtain the access necessary to get the repairs done as quickly and safely as possible.”
Brian Meltzer of Legal Services NYC countered, “He claims that my clients didn’t allow them in, which makes no sense because why would they deny him access so that they wouldn’t have a kitchen and bathroom.”
While tenants would like to see Israel face civil penalties or jail time for their miserable living conditions, the more pressing question is how quickly tenants can have their homes repaired. Public Advocate Letitia James is pushing for the Department of Housing Preservation and Development to go in, make the repairs, and bill Israel for the work, but HPD says that while it’s working on the case, the fixes needed at his buildings are more extreme than what the organization is normally equipped to handle.
One tenant told CBS, “He was lying. He keeps lying about why he’s not fixing the building. What we don’t understand is why HPD’s not doing anything to force him to fix it…10 months of no bathroom, no kitchen,” and another said via translation, “Mr. Mayor, please send us some help because we need it.” For his part, de Blasio has said he’s not familiar with this particular case, but said, “Obviously you know from the work that I did as [public] advocate, we are very forceful when it comes to landlords who have not been following the laws.” Israel’s trial continues tomorrow.
Follow Virginia K. Smith on Twitter @vksmith.