In New York City, affordable housing has been shrinking for decades. From 2012 to 2017, the supply of affordable housing available to low income households fell by almost 15%.
According to the Community Service Society, approximately, 76% of Manhattan residents are tenants and 46% of these tenants spent more than 30% of their income on rent.
For Manhattan to thrive, its residents need to feel safe at home and be housing secure. The newly-created Housing Bureau will investigate and prosecute systemic fraud in the housing arena, from rent stabilized apartments to NYCHA. These investigations will center on tenant inequities, such as illegal rent de-stabilization due to inflated and nonexistent improvements, fraudulent deed cases, tenant harassment, overbilling for poor or fraudulent repairs and falsifying inspections for mold, asbestos, pests, and lead-based peeling paint within the home.
Particular attention will be paid to fraud committed by landlords who falsify “individual apartment improvement (IAI)” costs to collect more rent on rent stabilized apartments than they are entitled to receive. Because these falsifications have thrived unchecked in housing court, it has resulted in the monthly theft of hundreds of thousands of dollars in illegal rent from tenants across Manhattan. This is because unscrupulous landlords have registered apartment rents higher than they are entitled to receive under rent stabilization, and have induced their tenants to pay the higher rents under false pretenses. The Housing Bureau will vigorously investigate these thefts and bring appropriate felony grand larceny and scheme to defraud charges.
Using the co-enforcement model based on the successful Construction Fraud Task Force, the Housing Bureau will work closely with other units in the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office – Community Affairs, Immigrant Affairs, the newly proposed Labor Bureau and, of course, the Construction Task Force.
The Housing Bureau assistant district attorneys, investigators and other employees at the DA’s office will coordinate with other City and State agencies, tenants & block associations, labor unions, housing advocates, elected officials, housing lawyers and non-profits to combat tenant harassment and landlord fraud (including criminal abuses of MCI and IAI filings), mortgage fraud, tax fraud, illegal transfer of deeds, HDFC and co-op fraud, and housing fraud in NYCHA housing.
As an example of the kind of cases the Bureau will undertake, in 2014 Diana Florence prosecuted a scam in which unlicensed site safety managers falsified hundreds of safety inspections. This scam endangered building residents and pedestrians at more than 40 buildings across Manhattan.
In 2019, Florence led the prosecution of one of the leading no-bid contractors at NYCHA for cheating workers, tenants, and taxpayers by skirting the prevailing wage law on multiple NYCHA jobs across the city.
The Housing Bureau will fight corrupt landlords and contractors who have taken advantage of loopholes in enforcement and the lack of government oversight to line their pockets at the expense of tenants and landlords who follow the law. These crimes range from tax evasion and tenant harassment to wholesale frauds perpetrated on unsuspecting tenants and taxpayers alike.
The criminal actions of corrupt landlords and others in the real estate industry have contributed to the affordable housing crisis in Manhattan and play a role in the rising levels of homelessness. The Housing Bureau is designed to strike at these problems in a collaborative and holistic fashion.