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Fugitive Brooklyn landlord faces felony charges connected to alleged tenant harassment

Yaniv Erez has been on the run regarding a contempt of court charge since 2016

The house at 385 Warwick Street in East New York.
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An accused Brooklyn slumlord and scam artist is facing felony grand larceny charges in connection with his alleged conning of a tenant in East New York.

Yaniv Erez has been wanted since 2016 in connection with what one housing court judge called a “Ponzi scheme” involving the alleged sabotage of the house at 385 Warwick Street. That earlier arrest warrant is for contempt of court, but police arrested him last Thursday in Miami on new charges. New York City sheriff’s deputies brought him back to Brooklyn this week; he was arraigned this morning and held on $15,000 bond. He faces up to seven years in prison on one felony count and up to four on the other.

“Finally!” said Sandra Borbon, a former tenant of one of Erez’s building. “You don’t imagine … He left me in the street with nothing. No money, no clothes.”

Erez rented Borbon the derelict home in July 2015. Prosecutors say he twice took rent checks from her that she left blank, with the understanding that she was paying $1,500; he allegedly wrote in $2,500. That was on top of a cash payment of $6,000 for two months’ security deposit and one month rent. Borbon says Erez then rented the house again to two successive tenants, as if she wasn’t living there. When she and the other would-be tenants complained early that August, Borbon says Erez sent police to kick her out.

The eviction was successful, thanks to a vacate order in place because Erez’s sabotage of a prior tenant had made the building legally uninhabitable. That demolition spree left the house with broken walls, disconnected toilets, missing pipes and water meters, a gas leak, a disconnected boiler, and human feces wiped on a tenant’s child’s clothing. A judge found that “the damage to the apartment could only have been done by Mr. Erez or with his cooperation.” Still, that tenant was forced to move out, and then, a year later, so too was Borbon.

Borbon lost many of her belongings, including appliances she bought for the place; she ultimately had to give up her spot at a Brooklyn flea market, because the only home she could find was on Long Island, too far for her to commute.

The string of burned tenants continued into 2017, when 385 Warwick tenant Jovella Brown says Erez broke down her door and padlocked her and her husband out, shortly before someone destroyed a water pipe in the basement and disabled a circuit breaker. In between, another set of tenants lived for most of a year without heat and hot water, before again being kicked out when the city vacated the building.

A series of complaints filed with the city’s Department of Buildings lists these issues, including the fact that the one-family home was illegally converted into a two-family, and that a boiler was “not regulated so it is bursting water.” There are also more than a dozen violations filed with the Department of Housing Preservation and Development.

Yaniv Erez was arraigned in Brooklyn Criminal Court on Friday morning.
Nathan Tempey

Of Erez’s arrest, Brown says, “Hopefully all the people he did dirty will get some justice. He was living the high life on people’s misery and misfortune. This is one down for the system.”

Brown also spoke to prosecutors in recent weeks, and has been living rent-free on Warwick with what she says is the city’s blessing since last summer. City housing workers, meanwhile, have made emergency repairs to the house, including replacing the boiler and water heater. The repairs billed to Erez now total nearly $78,000, and the city is paying the tenants’ gas bill, according to HPD.

“HPD has been heavily involved at this property, using a variety of enforcement tools to ensure that conditions will be corrected for tenants,” HPD spokesman Matthew Creegan said in a statement. “We will continue to use all of the resources at our disposal to hold bad landlords accountable.”

Erez was stone-faced and said nothing when questioned by this reporter as deputies walked him into the Municipal Building in Downtown Brooklyn in handcuffs Thursday evening.

“He denies the charges fully, and this is an excuse to bring him up on the criminal contempt finding by the housing court,” his lawyer Jonathan Rosenberg tells Curbed. Even though Erez has been a fugitive for two years, his lawyer does not believe he is a flight risk. “I have no doubt he will make it to every court date,” he says.

The Brooklyn House of Detention is a far cry from the lavish life that Erez is accustomed to. In addition to collecting rent on several Brooklyn buildings, he owns a cigar company, Erez Cigars, and frequently posts photos online showcasing his travels around the country and to the Caribbean, rarely far from a beach and always gripping a stogie.

“Everyone presumes that when the landlord is an asshole, as the presumption is here with Yaniv, that he’s a rich guy,” Rosenberg says, explaining that Erez’s wife plans to try to pay his bond with a credit card. “Yaniv is not a rich guy. He’s cash poor.”

Rosenberg says that the charges against Erez are matters that should be handled in civil court, and that he is the one being victimized by his tenants, their lawyers with the Legal Aid Society, and the District Attorney’s Office. “We find it ironic that Legal Aid, an organization opposed to incarceration, has fought so hard and worked so hard with the District Attorney’s Office to incarcerate this individual,” he said.

The East New York house isn’t the only Erez property where tenants are suffering. In June, the New York Daily News reported on tenants of a building on Rogers Avenue in Prospect Lefferts Gardens who complained of lacking heat and hot water, and bedbug and rat infestations. Tenants, who are currently in the middle of a rent strike, are, along with the city, in the process of suing Erez over the conditions. Two weeks ago, tenants sued again to strip him of control and hand over management of the building to a nonprofit administrator.