Saturday, April 18, 2015

Another Landlord, Property Manager Suffer 'Sting' By Fair Housing Testers; Get Whacked For $50K+ In Damages, Tenant's Legal Fees In Suit Alleging Discrimination Against Prospective "Section 8" Voucher-Holding Renter Who Proposed To Use Housing Subsidy Towards Rental Payments

In Buffalo, New York, The Buffalo News reports:
  • An absentee landlord and rental property manager are liable for $51,840 in damages and attorney fees linked to a housing discrimination case that occurred in December 2007, according to a Buffalo-based non-profit fair-housing agency.

    State Supreme Court Justice Patrick H. NeMoyer, who issued the judgment recently, in October 2013 upheld the City of Buffalo’s fair housing law, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of legal income, as well as the independent standing of fair-housing organizations bringing claims under the law.

    In December 2007, student Naima Stewart was denied the opportunity to rent one of several Huntington Avenue apartments, owned by California landlord Donald Peterson and listed with University Property Management, because she was low-income with a Section 8 housing voucher, according to Housing Opportunities Made Equal (HOME), which handled the case.

    A HOME investigator without the voucher was given tours of two apartments but one identifying herself as a Section 8 participant was denied, and told that the owner no longer accepted recipients of housing assistance as tenants, according to HOME..

Friday, April 17, 2015

Fair Housing Feds Score Another Settlement Against Landlord, Management Company For Discriminatory Policies Against Families w/ Children; Kids Found On Premises Unaccompanied By Adult Were Cursed At, Forced To Clean Manager's Toilet, Pick Up Trash Around Complex: HUD

From the Fair Housing Defense blog:
  • Even if done for what may appear to be a benign reason, professional apartment management cannot put overly restrictive rules in place which have the look of controlling the free movement of children around the community. HUD recently announced settlement of a discrimination case in which it was alleged unlawful rules were enacted to the detriment of families with children.

    The allegations included that management placed limits on children playing outside as well as a claim that children were forced to clean the manager’s office toilet when the kids were found outside unaccompanied by an adult.

    Many times, of course, cases with bad facts are the ones charged. Here seven families in California filed complaints (along with a nonprofit fair housing advocacy group) with HUD alleging that the community manager cursed at children when he found them playing outside unaccompanied, and then ordered the children to his office and instructed them to sit on the floor. HUD’s charge further asserted that once at the office, the manager required the children to clean the office toilet and pick up trash around the complex.

    He is also alleged to have threatened them by telling the children that their families might be evicted if they did not comply with his instructions. The apartment community also had a rule prohibiting children from using the swimming pool during certain hours.

    Pursuant to the agreed settlement terms, the owner and community manager will pay damages to the residents, former residents, the fair housing group. The community will also provide free rent for a number of months going forward. The total monetary value of the settlement is approximately $19,000. Management also agreed to eliminate the rule that restricted pool usage by children during the day and to obtain fair housing training for employees.

    While many of the facts here were difficult, I suspect the pool usage restriction was done as what was perceived as a helpful safety measure. What I have seen, however, is rules that impact kids need to be crafted in such a way as to not single out families with children.
Source: Can Management Enact Community Rules Which Appear Hostile to Children? No.

See also, Lake County (California) News: HUD takes action against hostile apartment rules against children included no playing outside:
  • In Napa Valley, seven affected families and the nonprofit group Fair Housing of Napa Valley filed complaints with HUD alleging that the manager at the River Park Manor Apartments cursed at children when he found them playing outside unaccompanied, and then ordered the children to his office and instructed them to sit on the floor.

    HUD’s charge further alleges that once at the office, the manager required the children to clean the office toilet and pick up trash around the complex, and threatened them by telling them that their families may be evicted if they did not comply with his instructions.

    The apartments also had a rule prohibiting children from using the swimming pool during certain hours.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Warren Buffett-Linked Outfit A Predatory Racket Peddling Mobile Homes & High-Cost Loans That Trap The Poor In Unaffordable Deals Almost Impossible To Resell Or Refinance?

From the Public Citizen Consumer Law & Policy Blog:
  • A joint investigation by The Center for Public Integrity and the Seattle Times reveals troubling practices by Clayton Homes, owned by Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway.

    Clayton, which operates under various names, is the nation’s biggest homebuilder, according to the report, which describes Clayton's practices thus: “Clayton relies on predatory sales practices, exorbitant fees, and interest rates that can exceed 15 percent, trapping many buyers in loans they can’t afford and in homes that are almost impossible to sell or refinance.”

    Some other practices unearthed in the investigation: “loan terms that changed abruptly after [customers] paid deposits or prepared land for their new homes; surprise fees tacked on to loans; and pressure to take on excessive payments based on false promises that they could later refinance”; additionally, Clayton loans average 7% higher rates than typical loans.
Source: Expose on predatory mobile home company owned by Warren Buffett.

From the joint investigation by The Center for Public Integrity and The Seattle Times:
In a related story, see U.S. House rolls back safeguards for mobile-home buyers:
  • The bill passed with strong support from Republicans, helped by a handful of Democrats. Other House Democrats objected vigorously, with several citing the findings of a recent investigation by The Center for Public Integrity and The Seattle Times.

    The investigation, “The Mobile-Home Trap,” found high interest rates, excessive fees and predatory sales practices by industry leader Clayton Homes, part of Berkshire Hathaway, an investment conglomerate run by billionaire Warren Buffett.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Two Winning Bidders At NYC Foreclosure Auction Each Face 15 Years For Alleged Premature Booting Of Financially Strapped Homeowner From Home; Duo Had Yet To Fully Pay Off Purchase Price, Close Title, Or Initiate Lawful Eviction Proceedings: DA

From the Office of the Queens County, New York District Attorney:
  • Queens District Attorney Richard A. Brown, joined by New York City Sheriff Joseph Fucito, [] announced that two Forest Hill men, who were the winning bidders at a foreclosure auction, have been charged with illegally evicting a Richmond Hill homeowner from his lawful residence and then breaking-in and boarding up doors and windows prior to legally assuming ownership and taking possession of the property.

    “More and more we are seeing individuals who are dealing with distressed properties unscrupulously taking advantage of the situation to benefit themselves,” said District Attorney Brown. “The defendants in this case are accused of taking the law into their own hands and bullying a homeowner into vacating his residence so that they would not have to deal with a housing court eviction proceeding.”

    Sheriff Fucito said, “We are not going to stand for anyone circumventing the law. Our office is working diligently to protect homeowners and tenants who may fall victim to the various unscrupulous and predatory behavior in real estate transactions. People have the right to live undisturbed in their homes and these two individuals are accused of violating the due process rights of the tenant at the address. The Sheriff’s Office stands ready to arrest individuals who violate this basic principle.”

    The District Attorney identified the defendants as Semyon (a/k/a Sam) Muratov, 34, of 64th Avenue, and Yuriy (a/k/a Erick) Munarov, 31, of 65 Road, both in Forest Hills, Queens. The two defendants were arraigned [...] on a criminal complaint charging each of them with second-degree burglary, third-degree criminal mischief, second-degree criminal trespass and unlawful eviction. The defendants, who each face up to 15 years in prison if convicted, were ordered held on $5,000 bond/$2,500 cash bail and to return to court on May 5, 2015.

    District Attorney Brown said that, according to the charges, Muratov placed a down payment of $25,000 on a residence located on 111 Street in Richmond Hill, Queens, at a foreclosure sale on Friday, January 9, 2015. However, the sale had not yet gone to closing. That same day, it is alleged that Muratov and Munarov went to the 111 Street property and advised the 59-year-old homeowner that they had bought his house at an auction and that he had to vacate the premises. When the homeowner asked for proof of the sale, the defendants allegedly refused to supply any evidence and instead told the homeowner that he had to give them the keys to the house and that they would be back in a couple of days to make sure that he had left.

    It is additionally alleged that when the two defendants returned to the property on January 12 and they couldn’t gain entry, they broke the doorframe and deadbolt lock and pushed in the front door. They then allegedly told the homeowner that he could take a few things with him. When he indicated that he had nowhere to go, the defendants allegedly gave him $200 in cash to find a place to stay. At that point, the homeowner grabbed some important documents and left the location.

    When he returned later to the house, he allegedly discovered that all of the first-floor doors and windows had been boarded up and chains had been placed in the door lock areas of the front door, preventing him from gaining entry to his house which contained most of his personal belongings.

    An investigation by District Attorney Brown’s Economic Crimes Bureau and the Office of the New York City Sheriff allegedly revealed on May 6, 2014, there was a Judgment of Foreclosure and Sale on the 111 Street homeowner’s property, although the homeowner maintained that he was unaware of the foreclosure proceeding. A review of documents allegedly revealed that an estranged son of the homeowner was served with the notice back in 2012.

    Although the mortgage lender auctioned off the property on January 9, 2015, Muratov would not assume ownership of the property until there was a closing with full payment for the property and a transfer of the deed. Even after a closing, Muratov would have had to proceed with a lawful eviction proceeding of the homeowner. He and Munarov did not have any authority to show up at the residence, direct the homeowner to vacate the premises and board up the house.
Source: Two Men Charged With "Theft" Of Queens Home After Foreclosure Auction (Allegedly Forced Homeowner To Illegally Vacate Property; Then Boarded Up Residence To Prevent His Reentry).

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Lawsuit: Landlord Who Agreed To Give Tenant $500K+ In Two Installments To Get Him To Move Now Seeks To Stiff Estate Out Of 2nd Installment Due To Tenant's Intervening Demise

In New York City, the New York Post reports:
  • An Upper West Side landlord that offered more than half a million bucks to get a longtime tenant out of its building is refusing to pay up after the man’s death.

    Walter Blomeyer lived for decades in his tiny studio at 350 W. 71st St., one of three adjoining single-room-occupancy buildings owned by Icon Realty Management.

    Icon, which is planning to convert the building to luxury housing, offered $525,000 to Blomeyer if he hit the road — a deal he accepted, according a Manhattan Supreme Court lawsuit filed by his estate.

    Icon modified the deal, paying Blomeyer the initial $300,000 and letting him live in one of the adjacent SRO buildings rent-free for a year before issuing the final $225,000, his estate says in court documents.

    Boymeyer, who worked as a black-car driver, died in February of a heart attack, according to lawyer Ted Poretz. “This is bullying,” Poretz fumed. “There’s nothing at all in this agreement that says, ‘We don’t have to pay him when he dies.’ ”

    A lawyer for Icon disputed the claims in the suit. “The agreement said nothing about his estate benefiting,” lawyer Mitch Kossoff told The Post. “His estate is entitled to nothing.”

Monday, April 13, 2015

Jewish Congregants Accuse Rabbi Of Selling Their Lower East Side House Of Worship Out From Under Them For $13M; Court Date Upcoming In Effort To Thwart Title Transfer

In New York City, the New York Post reports:
  • This deal is not kosher!

    Worshipers at a Lower East Side synagogue are furious that their building, at 25 Bialystoker Place, has been sold without their knowledge or permission and are going to New York state supreme court next Wednesday to ask a judge to stop the $13 million sale to developer Peter Fine.

    The worshipers are also outraged that proceeds from the sale of the non-profit building will not be used to help the Lower East Siders who use the building, the Home of the Sages of Israel.

    Instead, $10 million from the sale will go to Ger, a right wing Hasidic sect, to build a synagogue in Israel, and the other $3 million will go to the synagogue’s president, Rabbi Samuel Aschkenazi, who calls himself a leader of the Ger sect and also runs a synagogue out of a converted garage attached to his personal residence in Queens, at 82-61 Beverly Road, Kew Gardens, said David Jaroslawicz, a lawyer who is representing the worshipers who are opposed to the deal.

    “This is a money grab and it’s offensive,” said Jaroslawicz.

    Patrick Rohan, of the top law firm Boies, Schiller & Flexner, which has represented Al Gore and Microsoft, along with the Lower East Side not-for-profit, Home of the Sages, declined to comment.

    Aschkenazi’s Queens synagogue is Congregation Tifereth Shmuel — and the elderly Lower East Side Jews will not be able to travel there to pray on a daily basis. The 25 Bialystoker synagogue is also the only one on the Lower East Side to be wheel chair accessible.

    “There are a lot of charities on the Lower East Side that need money to help people who live there. The synagogue allegedly had a member meeting to pass this deal — even though the ‘members’ were people from Queens who had never stepped foot in the synagogue to worship there,” Jaroslawicz said.

    The Home of the Sages is beside the landmarked Bialystoker Synagogue, where disgraced ex assembly speaker Sheldon Silver worships. Fine is also in contract to buy the synagogue’s air rights and another property adjacent to the synagogue in another controversial deal.

    Real estate sources say that Willy Rapfogel — now in jail for stealing millions from a Jewish charity he ran and where Fine once worked as a social worker — brought Fine into the deal. Fine’s spokesman denied the allegation, saying that “members of the community” introduced Fine to the deal.

    Jaroslawicz also said that the “members” of the synagogue at 25 Bialystoker Place who voted for the deal are members of the Ger sect that will receive the $10 million. “It’s outrageous,” Jaroslawicz said.

    Jaroslawicz also provided the Post with a copy of a lease agreement between the Home of the Sages, where Aschkenazi is president, and Congregation Tifereth Shmuel, which shares the same address as his home in Queens. In the lease agreement, Rabbi Aschkenazi signs for the Tenant — the Home of the Sages of Israel — to pay the Landlord, the Congregation Tifereth Shmuel, $45,000 a year to lease the space above his garage. The Rabbi’s wife signed the lease on behalf of the Congregation but neglected to write her last name. She only signed using her first names, Rathma Bithya, and omitted to identify herself Rathma Bithya Aschkenazi.

    Jaroslawicz also alleges that Aschkenazi gave donations from the Home of the Sages to fancy schools, like the Manhattan School for Girls on the Upper East Side, during the years his granddaughter attended, in lieu of tuition. The donations are noted on the Home of the Sages tax forms, copies of which were obtained by the Post.

    “The Home of the Sages collects $700,000 to $800,000 a year to take care of elderly rabbis — but they don’t! It’s unbelievable,” Jaroslawicz said, adding that Aschkenazi uses some of that money to pay himself $75,000 a year, and other money to pay his son, the late Mendel Aschkenazi, who helped run a nursing home also located in the building with Charles Knoll, until Mendel Aschkenazi’s recent death.

    Rabbi Aschkenazi did not return calls that were made on Thursday before observant Jews turned off their phones to observe the end of Passover.

    Jaroslawicz also slammed the Attorney General’s office for not objecting to the deal in the first place. An AG spokesman told the Post: “We did not ‘approve’ anything. We submitted no objections, but ultimately a judge signs off, approves such a deal.” He added: “We also submitted no objections to the directing of those $10 million. It’s not illegal….We’ve concluded that there will be sufficient funds remaining for Home of the Sages worship/study activities.”

    One lawyer familiar with the case questioned how the AG’s office thinks that 80-year-old worshipers on the Lower East Side will be able to travel to Queens for “worship/study activities” that begin daily at 7 AM. “How will they get there? On their Harleys? The AG’s office is either corrupt or incompetent.”