Eric Schneiderman for Attorney General

“Real Deal: BK Landlords Agree to Pay $132K for Breaking Tenant Buyout Rules”

November 15, 2017

As published by The Real Deal, on November 3, 2017.

Two Brooklyn landlords must pay $132,000 for buying tenants out of their rent-stabilized apartments without notifying them of their legal rights.

Brothers Graham and Greg Jones, who run the multifamily real estate firm GRJ, were accused of violating the city’s tenant harassment law, which requires the landlords to provide written notices to tenants spelling out their rights, including that they can refuse buyout offers. According to state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, 33 tenants in three rent-stabilized buildings in Bushwick — 946 Bushwick Avenue, 1075 Greene Avenue and 920 Bushwick Avenue — accepted buyouts between June 2016 and July 2017.

“Tenants should never feel harassed into vacating their homes,” Schneiderman said in a statement. “This settlement makes clear that we will aggressively enforce the law to protect tenants from those who seek to put profit before New Yorkers’ rights — and we’ll continue to fight for the tougher state laws we need to criminally crack down on tenant harassment.”

Stephen Meister, an attorney for the landlords, said his clients didn’t realize that they were required to notify tenants in writing. He said that the settlement was an assurance of discontinuance — meaning that the Jones brothers will abide by the city’s notification requirements the next time they try to buy tenants out. He noted that the tenants all “willingly and happily accepted cash buyouts.”

“What any normal human being would call harassment did not occur,” he said. “No monkey business with heating or hot water. None of that.”

The city changed the housing maintenance code’s definition of harassment in 2015 to include making a buyout offer without notifying the tenant of their right to stay in their apartment. The settlement money from the GRJ case will be used to fund affordable housing in the city.

Tenants in the buildings filed several related lawsuits against the brothers earlier this year, alleging that they were threatening residents. Meister said 37 actions were initiated by Brooklyn Legal Services Corp. A against his clients and accuses the firm of convincing tenants to join the lawsuits under false pretenses. He indicated that the Joneses might pursue litigation against the firm.

Representatives for Brooklyn Legal Services Corp. A couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.