UPDATED: Alleged slumlords face 15 years behind bars

Accused: Joel Israel, along with his brother Amrom Israel, is facing charges of burglary, fraud, and unlawful eviction for allegedly terrorizing tenants in his rent-stabilized buildings.
Brooklyn District Attorney’s office

Cops arrested a pair of alleged Brooklyn slumlords this morning, and the two men now face up to 15 years in prison for allegedly breaking into tenants’ rent-stabilized homes and destroying them in order to force the low-income residents out.

Joel and Amrom Israel, who own or manage 10 buildings in Bushwick and Greenpoint, each face a long list of charges, including burglary, scheming to defraud, and unlawful eviction. Officials say the brothers were hoping to force their rent-stabilized tenants out so they could bring higher rollers in and collect more rent.

The criminal charges against the pair are the first shots in a new war against slumlords that will be fought in criminal court as well as housing court, said Brooklyn district attorney Ken Thompson.

“It is time for law enforcement to step up,” said Thompson outside of 98 Linden St., where the brothers allegedly waged a months-long campaign against the tenants that included knocking massive holes in the floors and wall and hiring a “security guard” to intimidate and threaten them. “We can no longer allow these matters to linger in housing court.”

The two allegedly caused chaos at every property they managed or own. At the Linden Street building, where tenants were paying between $650 and $700 a month in rent, they paid guys to take a sledgehammer to the floors, leaving the bathroom and living room unusable, residents claimed. Tenant Michelle Crespo said she was forced to take her 15-year-old and 12-year-old sons to a neighbor’s place or to a nearby McDonalds to use the bathroom for more than a year. The holes in the wall were so big that she could see into her neighbor’s apartment, and rats and stray cats frequently squatted in her apartment and sometimes died there, she said today.

A tenant at 324 Central Ave. in Bushwick said she went to her doctor one afternoon last year and was locked out of the apartment when she returned home. She called police, who let her inside, where she said she found strange men demolishing her kitchen and bathroom. The Israel brothers then allegedly filed for false construction permits while denying anyone lived there and did not indicate that the apartment was rent stabilized, prosecutors said.

Held accountable: Amrom Israel, who is also known as Aaron Israel, is accused of breaking into his tenants’ rent-stabilized apartments to destroy their walls and utilities in order to force them to move out.
Brooklyn District Attorney’s office

The tenants at 300 Nassau Ave. in Greenpoint finally won a lengthy court case against the brothers in February. The tenants there told a housing court judge that the brothers paid someone to take an axe to their boiler, thermostat, and electrical system to get them out and bring in higher-paying renters. The housing court judge appointed an independent administrator to fix the building, but tenants, who have been staying with relatives or in homeless shelters, will still not be able to get back in for several months.

Tenants said they are ecstatic that the brothers have finally been arrested.

“Finally we get to celebrate today,” said Crespo today, as she fought back tears. “No one deserves to go through this.”

The brothers, who both live in Borough Park, were arraigned in Brooklyn Criminal Court this morning. A judge set bail at $75,000 for Joel Israel and at $50,000 for Amrom Israel. No one from their JBI Management company returned calls for comment and a spokesman for their attorneys Becker and Poliakoff said they were not representing the pair in the criminal case.

This could be the first of many cases against bad landlords to come in New York City. The Israel brothers are only two among a scourge of alleged slumlords in the city, said public advocate Letitia James, adding that there are more than 6,000 names on a city-side watch list.

Reach reporter Danielle Furfaro at dfurfaro@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260–2511. Follow her at twitter.com/DanielleFurfaro.
Hell house: 98 Linden St. tenant Noelia Calero claims landlord Joel Israel cut giant holes in her kitchen and living room floors.
Photo by Stefano Giovannini

More from Around New York