The landlord of a Crown Heights building illegally tore down his rent-stabilized tenants’ interior walls, cut their heat in the dead of winter, and exposed the renters — including a 6-year-old child — to dangerous lead dust in order to force them out of their homes, says the state’s top lawman.
Authorities on Wednesday arrested and indicted Daniel Melamed for unlawful eviction and child endangerment as part of what state and local pols say is a city-wide crackdown on unscrupulous landlords.
“Today’s charges send a strong message to landlords across New York City: if you harass, intimidate, or jeopardize the health and safety of your tenants, we will come after you with the full force of the law,” said Schneiderman, who hosted a press conference outside the boarded-up building at the corner of Union Street and Troy Avenue that bears a plaque calling it “Union Arms.”
The arrest is the first big collar for the city and state’s new task-force against tenant harassment. The special slumlord unit — which combines the powers of several building and housing agencies — started its investigation into Melamed’s 14-unit building in February and slowly gathered the evidence it needed to make the arrest, said Schneiderman.
According to the indictment, Melamed bought the building in 2012 and offered the current tenants money to leave. When they refused, he allegedly set about making their living conditions unbearable. Melamed shut off the heat and hot water several times last winter while he performed illegal demolition on the property, and left occupants breathing in toxic levels of lead-paint dust, prosecutors allege. The air quality was so bad that tenants were forced to stuff wet towels in the cracks of their doors to keep the dust out of their apartments, Schneiderman said.
Inspectors found more than 200 violations in the Union Street building and officials had to arrange for emergency repairs so that the remaining tenants could safely stay in their homes, Schneiderman said.
Melamed is now facing up to four years in prison. In addition to the eviction and child endangerment charges, he is also accused of filing false documents with the city that said the building was vacant during construction, so inspectors wouldn’t come a-knocking. His builder Pirooz Soltanizadeh was also arrested and charged on Wednesday for his alleged involvement in the scheme.
Melamed owns and manages six other buildings throughout the city, and the task force is still investigating conditions in his other properties, Schneiderman said.
Mayor DeBlasio said he is glad to see that the task force is getting results, and that he hopes every landlord in the city takes notice.
“There have been too many abusive landlords in this city and too many times they have gotten away with abusive actions towards tenants,” said the mayor on Wednesday. “The message today is ‘game over.’ ”
This is the second time this year that alleged Brooklyn slumlords have been hit with criminal charges for making their buildings unlivable. Brooklyn District Attorney Ken Thompson filed a criminal indictment in April against landlords Joel and Amron Israel, who are accused of smashing holes in floors and walls of their buildings, and destroying boilers, thermostats, and electrical systems to try to force their rent-stabilized tenants to leave. They each face up to 15 years in prison.
This week’s arrest also comes as lawmakers bicker over the nuances of the state’s currently-expired rent stabilization rules, including caveats that allow landlords to raise the rent each time a tenant moves out, and add costs of repairs into the rent.
Melamed and Soltanizadeh’s attorneys did not returned calls and e-mails for comment.