A Brooklyn landlord was indicted today on charges that he destroyed parts of his Crown Heights building to push out rent-regulated tenants.
Daniel Melamed, a Long Island resident who owns several buildings in Brooklyn, was charged with forcing tenants out of the building, filing false construction permits and endangering the welfare of a child, according to Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman’s office. Tenants of 1578 Union Street, one of whom included a 6-year-old boy, went months without heat, were forced to breathe in lead-filled dust and live in semi-demolished apartments.
“Demolition work throughout the building left the common areas cold and covered in thick dust, which blew into the apartments. Doors were replaced with plywood,” Mr. Schneiderman said outside the tarnished building at a joint press conference with Mayor Bill de Blasio. “They had to stuff wet towels under their doors just to keep the dust out.”
That lead-infested dust was 88 times the legal limit, Mr. Schneiderman said.
When Mr. Melamed bought the 14-unit building in 2012 for $1.6 million, all his tenants were covered under rent regulation. He allegedly started the demolition in February 2014 but it was never completed, Mr. Schneiderman said. By the time the attorney general’s office started its investigation six months ago, there were three tenants left in the building.
He and his engineer lied to the city’s Department of Buildings, Mr. Schneiderman alleged, when it put in construction permits and said the building was completely empty. Mr. Melamed and his engineer, Pirooz Soltanizadeh, are both accused of filing false documents.
“These defendants filed plans for a massive and illegal construction project in this building,” Mr. Schneiderman said. “They then undertook months of demolition work that put the health and safety of every tenant at risk.”
Seth Denenberg, the attorney for Mr. Melamed, could not be reached for comment. John Tasolides, who represented Mr. Soltanizadeh, was not available for comment.
Demolition and false permits aren’t uncommon practices for landlords trying to deregulate their apartments in quickly gentrifying neighborhoods. This case is just another in a recent string. Brooklyn District Attorney Ken Thompson in April charged two brothers on similar grounds, alleging they destroyed apartments in four of their buildings to end rent-stabilized leases.
The indictment comes a day after rent regulations expired in New York City potentially impacting more than 2 million renters in the Big Apple. Messrs. Schneiderman and de Blasio took the timely opportunity to stress the need for more tenant-friendly rent regulations.
“It’s impossible to talk about this without thinking about the backdrop of what we’re going through in these days right now—over a million rent-regulated units hanging in the balance; over 2 million New Yorkers,” Mr. de Blasio said. “And a law that right now rewards vacancies. The current rent law must be changed and improved because it rewards vacancies. And, therefore, an unscrupulous landlord will do everything in their power legal or illegal to get that vacancy, so they can jack up the rent an additional 20 percent.”