Judge Allows East Harlem Tenants to Sue City’s ‘Worst’ Landlord
A judge has granted a motion allowing more than 100 East Harlem tenants to sue notorious landlord Steven Croman. The complaint, filed by law firm Newman Ferrara and the Housing Rights Initiative (HRI), alleges that Croman illegally leased rent-stabilized apartments in a Harlem building at market rates while receiving tax benefits from the state.
In 2016, former state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman charged Croman with 20 felonies including falsifying rental income to secure up to $45 million in financing and harassing tenants at rent-regulated apartments. In 2017, Croman pleaded guilty to grand larceny, tax fraud, and related charges, spent eight months in Rikers Island, and was released last June. And in late 2017, Croman agreed to pay a record $8 million to former tenants, the largest ever settlement with an individual landlord, according to Attorney General Letitia James, who recently announced the second round of restitution funds for Croman’s tenants.
The current lawsuit contends that Croman never gave leases to tenants or registered those units with the state, and that he deregulated 70 percent of the building’s 92 units. Croman’s June 2015 property tax statements for the buildings show that only 36 out of 92 units were listed as rent stabilized, according to the suit. Also, the J-51 program’s rules would require Croman to register all 92 units as rent stabilized to receive tax break benefits.
HRI now expects rent refunds for affected tenants, as well as new rent-stabilized leases. According to an HRI statement, Perry granted the class action status because tenants share a common goal to ensure that they are charged the legal maximum rent and that the status will avoid having several lawsuits involving the same facts.