A new settlement will force notorious landlord Raphael Toledano to pay $3 million in damages over accusations that he harassed tenants and violated rent stabilization law.
An investigation by state Attorney General Letitia James and the New York State Homes and Community Renewal’s Tenant Protection Unit discovered that Toledano, founder of Brookhill Properties, harassed tenants into fleeing rent-stabilized units through dangerous construction, fraudulent behavior, and other illicit pratices, supreme court filings shows.
“Under no circumstance should tenants be subjected to the harassment perpetrated by landlords like Raphael Toledano,” said James. “Putting profits over people is unacceptable, and my office will hold any landlord accountable who violates the law to increase their bottom line.”
Investigators found that Toledano often failed to provide repairs or services to rent-regulated tenants, engaged in unsafe construction on vacant apartments, and designed renovations to increase rents above the threshold needed to remove apartments from stabilization laws. The shoddy construction was itself used as a means to push out residents by releasing toxic debris into buildings—many of which are located in the East Village. One tenant described renovations unleashing lead dust into his apartment building.
“There was sudden, unannounced, slap-dash demolition work that released elevated levels of lead dust into buildings where toddlers were living,” said Jim Markowich, a former tenant of a Brookhill-owned building on East 5th Street. “We feel that he consciously and strategically tried to make our lives as his tenants unnecessarily upsetting and difficult.”
He also misrepresented himself as a lawyer to tenants and advertised apartments with three or four bedrooms that legally could have only one or two bedrooms, according to court documents. Toledano did not immediately return a request for comment.
Under the settlement, an independent monitor will supervise Toledano’s real estate business to ensure he doesn’t engage in fraud or harass tenants. He will also be barred from directly interacting with tenants and required to hire an independent management company for his properties.
All told, Toledano will have to shell out $3 million in damages and penalties, but if he violates the terms of the agreement that figure could climb to $10 million and James will seek a lifetime bar against his participation in the real estate industry.
James and the Tenant Protection Unit began investigating Toledano after receiving a slew of complaints from tenants and community advocates decrying his unscrupulous practices.
“These tenants were terrorized by Toledano’s pervasive threats, fraud and scheming which jeopardized their safety,” said New York State Homes and Community Renewal Commissioner RuthAnne Visnauskas. “And we recommit again today: We will not tolerate abuse of rent regulated tenants.”