For Immediate Release: May 10, 2016
COOPER SQUARE COMMITTEE APPLAUDS INDICTMENT
OF PREDATORY LANDLORD STEVE CROMAN
The Cooper Square Committee applauds NYS Attorney General Eric Schniederman for bringing a 20 count criminal indictment and civil charges against notorious landlord, Steve Croman, who has a long track record of harassing and intimidating his rent regulated tenants. “Our Organizing Director, Brandon Kielbasa, brought many of these allegations to the attention of Attorney General Schneiderman’s office over 2 years ago. We are deeply gratified that he and his staff did a thorough investigation of the many tenant claims of harassment and intimidation that we documented, and moved forward with an indictment”, said Steve Herrick, Executive Director.
For more than a decade, Cooper Square Committee’s organizing department has worked with Croman tenants grappling with a pattern of frivolous litigation, failure to deposit tenants’ rent checks followed by dispossess notices, a lack of essential services, the use of Anthony Falconite’s services to stalk tenants and make repeated buyout offers, and reckless renovation often done without permits or in disregard for stop work orders. Buildings acquired by Croman followed a familiar pattern, with most of the tenants moving out within a year of his acquiring them.
We want to acknowledge the tenant associations that fought back despite the fear of retaliation. Tenants at 309 East 8th Street brought an HP Action in Housing Court when Croman’s renovation work disbursed dust on a constant basis and caused health problems for a number of tenants. The building also had a DOB partial vacate order for the basement due to damage caused to a load bearing wall that housed all the gas meters. The reckless demolition also caused gas leaks that lead to a four week gas shut off; 159 Stanton Street got organized last year in response to harassment and unpermitted and dangerous renovation work. More recently; 529 East 6th Street organized and drafted letters to New York Community Bank about the over-leveraging of their building, and advocated for themselves after being left without cooking gas for months. 60 Avenue B organized after experienced disruptive renovation work, and wrote Croman and his management company to resolve the issues. After getting some modest improvements, they held off on taking legal action. These and many other tenant associations contributed valuable documentation to the AG’s Office.
A lot of other community based housing groups in Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens have helped tenants organize to defend themselves against Croman’s tactics, including GOLES, UHAB, Movement for Justice in El Barrio, Crown Heights Tenant Union, and others. The strong support of elected officials such as Councilmembers Rosie Mendez, Margaret Chin, Melissa Mark Viverito, Jumaane Williams and Senators Brad Hoylman and Daniel Squadron, Assembly member Brian Kavanagh and Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer enabled Croman tenants to bring attention to Croman’s attacks on tenants and encouraged tenants to keep fighting back. Still many tenants feared that Croman appeared to be untouchable. The news on Monday that Croman and his mortgage broker, Barry Schwartz, have been indicted is vindication for the tenants in dozens of buildings in the Lower East Side and the East Village as well as the tenants in scores of other buildings in New York City.
“The scope of this extraordinary indictment reveals not only Mr. Croman’s greed, but his lack of compunction and the sadistic pleasure he and his minions took in their illegal efforts to increase his profits” said Robert Pinter, tenant association representative at 309 East 8thStreet. “We hope it sends a strong message to the other arrogant predatory landlords in the city that no one is above the law. To every tenant who has had the courage to speak up and organize while living through the intimidation and hell of a Croman renovation, New York City owes you a debt of gratitude”, he added.
“We hope this indictment will send a strong message to other predatory equity landlords,” said Brandon Kielbasa, Cooper Square Committee’s Director of Organizing. He added that tenants should “Keep fighting! Don’t ever stop working to shine a light on the wrongful acts of these bad-acting landlords. Your tenacity makes these big wins possible. Your actions will help alert elected officials and government agencies.”
The Cooper Square Committee is one of the lead organizations involved in the city-wide coalition called Stand for Tenant Safety that is working with the City Council to win passage of a dozen bills that aim to make the NYC Dept. of Buildings more responsive to tenant complaints during renovation. They include:
- disallowing self-certification of DOB filings by landlords who are found guilty of tenant harassment;
- making DOB issue orders to correct when they issue vacate orders in order to take away the incentive to deliberately create unsafe conditions;
- creating a Real Time Enforcement Unit at DOB in order to respond within 2 hours when work is done without a permit and within 5 days when a permit involves more than 10% of the floor area of the building or creating an addition to the building;
- requiring landlords to make their Tenant Protection Plan publicly available to tenants and to maintain essential services during renovation;
- increasing fines for work without permits and for work done in violation of stop work orders; and enforcing payment of administrative fines such as DOB and ECB fines through lien sales.
Steve Croman has regularly engaged in many of the practices above. For example, he frequently did work without a permit and in violation of stop work orders, and at one point last year he had over $1 million in unpaid ECB fines. “For landlords like him, getting caught disregarding DOB rules was a small cost of doing business. With yesterday’s indictment, the Attorney General is sending the message that the cost of engaging in a criminally reckless real estate enterprise has gone up significantly”, said Steve Herrick.