A Bushwick landlord punched massive holes in his rent-stabilized tenants’ floor to drive them out and jack up the rent, claim residents and politicians who are calling on the city to beef up laws to stop what they say is an epidemic of building owner sabotage.
The building at 98 Linden St. is owned by Joel Israel, who renters say pledged to paint and put in new floor tiles in June but instead ripped two 10-feet-wide craters in the floor in different rooms on the ground level and left it that way in a bid to make the apartment legally unlivable and, ultimately, make the building market-rate. A local official says that such tactics are not punished harshly enough by the government.
“He has decided to take advantage of the weak policies of the city,” Councilman Antonio Reynoso (D–Bushwick) during a press conference at the building.
The current fines for violating housing codes are low enough that landlords do whatever they want and accept the penalties as a cost of doing business, activists say. Noelia Calero, who lives on the ground floor at 98 Linden, has a hole in her living room that she can see the basement through, which she says has forced her, her husband, and her parents to use the kitchen and bathroom of an upstairs neighbor for the past 10 months. To add insult to extreme inconvenience, Israel hired a building resident to walk around the building playing loud music, accompanied by a mean dog, Calero said.
“He wants to evict everyone from the building,” she said. “I will not move out. I have lived here 23 years. This is my home.”
Israel owns 19 buildings throughout New York, 10 of which are in Brooklyn, including 300 Nassau Ave. in Greenpoint, where tenants were forced out after they say he took an ax to the boilers, thermostat, and circuit breakers. All of Israel’s buildings have been cited for code violations and many have apartments that are officially uninhabitable, but the costs he has incurred are small. Israel is currently facing less than $2,500 in fines for the dire state of the Linden Street apartment building.
Reynoso, Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez (D–Bushwick), and a coalition of community groups are imploring the city to hit landlord saboteurs with more citations and to create laws that would allow the city to seize property from them if they fail to clean up their acts.
“It is unconscionable in the city of New York, which is the financial capital of the world, that we would allow what this landlord is doing to these tenants,” said Velazquez.
Israel did not respond to a request for comment.