When Noelia Calero's landlords, Joel and Aaron Israel, told her they would be coming in to fix the kitchen and bathroom in her Bushwick apartment, she believed them...until she arrived home one day to find her place, located at 98 Linden Street, all but demolished, with walls knocked down and several main rooms featuring cavernous holes that certainly didn't belie any evidence of "repairs." That was 10 months ago. The holes, the crumbled drywall, and a bathroom rendered utterly inoperable—all of it is still there, and neither Israel seems to have any plans to fix the damage anytime soon.
In that time, it's become apparent to Calero that the Israels, now known as two of Brooklyn's most infamous slumlords, never had any intention of improving her apartment—instead, they wanted her out, keen to replace her and her family with higher paying tenants not privy to their rent-stabilized rent.
The Israels, who are slated to appear in Housing Court today, are accused of similarly making life hell for tenants in more than a dozen other properties around the city, most of which are located in gentrifying Brooklyn. But under the current legal process, such criminal behavior is punishable by only a gentle slap on the wrist.
Elected officials joined tenants rights advocates yesterday on the steps of 98 Linden Street, calling for harsher punishments for galling behavior on the part of landlords like the Israels, who take drastic, horrific measures to evict rent-stabilized tenants to make room for wealthy newcomers flocking to neighborhoods like Williamsburg, Greenpoint and Bushwick.
“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 Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez. “This landlord should be sent to jail, and throw the keys away."
If the tenants at 98 Linden have it bad, those just around the corner at 324 Central Avenue can certainly empathize. Silveria Hormiga-Rey lived in her third floor apartment for nearly nine years before the Israels demolished the entire rear portion last month, forcing her and her four children to move out. Hormiga-Rey, who recycles cans and sells chocolates for a living, paid around $1,700 for her sunny, street-facing apartment. Now the space stands empty, awaiting new, wealthier tenants like the ones who live just downstairs.
Chris Patrick, 31, and TJ Gill, 20, moved in just below Hormiga-Rey in November for what seemed like a bargain at $2,350/month. That is, until they learned the renovations, so seemingly attractive on Craigslist, had all been done illegally. Patrick, an insurance adjuster wearing thick-framed glasses and a beanie, said he'd moved into the space unaware of the Israels or their history.
"I had no idea what was going on upstairs—I figured they were just remodeling the building and I was OK," he said. "Had I known that, I wouldn’t have moved into an apartment that was an illegal conversion."
The apartment, they said, was outwardly polished but clearly had some problems—a third, basement bedroom lacked a wall until several months after the two moved in. "We couldn’t rent the room out because there was no room," Patrick said. "It was just an alcove with nothing separating it from the living room downstairs."
Despite the issues, Patrick said living in the building was better than the alternative.
"I can’t afford to live in Williamsburg anymore—I make a decent amount of money so it’s not like I’m down and out or anything, but Bushwick is the only affordable neighborhood," he said. "Unless you want to move to like, Crown Heights, but I wasn’t ready to move to Crown Heights, or Flatbush or anything like that yet."