A notorious slumlord accused of purposefully destroying several Brooklyn apartments in an attempt to illegally evict his rent-stabilized tenants has finally spoken up in a trial.
Tenants of 98 Linden Street, as well as others around the borough, say that Joel Israel demolished large swaths of their apartments in order to have them evicted, the hope being that he could then rebuild the space and rent it out for a significantly higher price. Israel testified yesterday that the tenants have only themselves to blame, having denied his contractors access to their homes in order to perform "necessary repairs." That was nearly a year ago, and residents have been forced to live in a partially-collapsed apartment ever since.
Brent Meltzer, an attorney at Brooklyn Legal Services, isn't buying Israel's claims that he was "trying to help."
“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,” Meltzer told CBS2. “He was lying. He keeps lying about why he’s not fixing the building."
Israel's attorney released a statement alleging that his 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," said attorney Glenn Spiegel. A similar statement was sent to Gothamist last month, adding that "there are deteriorating conditions that must be addressed, which can take considerable time, resources and effort. In some cases, tenants have denied access to the owners, making repairs impossible and prolonging the repair process."
Housing advocates want to see Israel brought to justice, preferably in the form of jail time. Public Advocate Letitia James has implored the Department of Housing Preservation and Development to swoop in and repair the destruction, though a spokesperson for the agency told CBS2 that the damage is simply too extreme.
The hearing will resume on Tuesday.