A fugitive Brooklyn landlord who has been on the run for two years over one of his housing court cases is still trying to run tenants out, advocates allege.
Yaniv (Ben) Erez is the subject of a March 2016 New York City Sheriff’s Office warrant for criminal contempt after damaging an apartment on Warwick St. in East New York — to keep a tenant from moving back.
While Erez, 46, has long been MIA, residents in another one of his buildings, on Rogers Ave. in Prospect Lefferts Gardens, say he’s let their building descend into squalor — and ramped up eviction efforts with harassment.
The Legal Aid Society claims in a recent Brooklyn Housing Court petition that residents haven’t had hot water since April 23, when National Grid took out a potentially dangerous gas connection.
Residents have been reeling from “substantial and repeated interruptions of essential services ... including interruptions of heat, gas and electrical supply to apartment units,” Legal Aid also claims in a May filing.
Tenants at Rogers Ave. — which according to the city Department of Housing Preservation and Development website has 71 open violations — have also reported bedbug and rat infestations to the agency, according to Legal Aid.
The landlord has “engaged in harassment ... by interrupting or discontinuing essential services to the subject premises for a significant duration and by allowing such interruptions to occur unabated,” Legal Aid alleges.
This is the Rogers Ave. apartment building in Prospects Lefferts Gardens, where landlord Erez is accused of trying to evict tenants through harassment. (Kevin C Downs / For New York Daily News)
The cellar at Rogers Ave. was locked by the landlord for more than two years, for example, preventing city agencies and utility companies from fixing problems with the building.
This was part of a broader strategy “predicated on intent to cause tenant-petitioners to vacate,” court papers charge.
Angela Robinson, who has lived in a one-bedroom apartment at the Rogers Ave. property since 1997, said conditions have become a “nightmare” over the last several years.
“I have rheumatoid arthritis, I have lupus,” said Robinson, 54. “I can’t stay in here because it’s freezing.
“He’s trying to get us out,” said the suffering woman, who pays $863 a month for her rent-stabilized apartment.
Robinson was hit with eviction paperwork in late 2017, accusing her of not paying rent for one year — an allegation she denies. She insists she and other tenants only recently started withholding money because “something was not going right” with the building.
“My apartment needs to be taken care of,” said Robinson, who’s on disability. “It’s chaos.”
Housing Preservation in March filed a separate petition against Rogers Realty Inc. and Erez, whom the agency names as a principal or agent “for failure to provide heat.”
“Tenants deserve to live in safe and secure environments,” said Housing Preservation spokesman Matthew Creegan. “Our team is aware of the situation here, and will continue to use all of the tools at our disposal to hold landlords accountable.”
Jonathan Rosenberg, who's representing Erez regarding the criminal contempt order, said he was told the tenants don’t pay rent.
"The courts enable nonpayment," Rosenberg said. "The city's records are in disrepair."
"Our client is a small business property owner with tenants who refuse to fulfill their lease [obligations]," he said.
Asked why Erez, whom Rosenberg said lived mainly in South Florida, had not turned himself in, he said "All I can do is advise my client to follow a state court’s order."
"I can’t force my client to fly back to New York," Rosenberg said.
He thinks that after an appeal, the criminal contempt order will be "reversed on constitutional grounds."