Criminal Slumlords

Everyone has a nightmare rental story, whether it be living with psychotic roommates or dealing with an unreasonable landlord. Disputes over repairs, returns of security deposits or even tenant safety are the usual complaints. But recently, a man in Brooklyn showed that sometimes landlords know no limits when trying to run their tenants out of their property illegally.

Fifty-four-year-old Abdus Shahid was recently charged with forgery after allegations that he began using a deceased’s notary public’s stamp and signature on court filings in an effort to evict tenants from an apartment building in Bedford-Stuyvesant. According to court filings, Mr. Shahid forged close to 30 documents using the identity of a notary public who died in October 2014. He used these documents to file eviction suits against his tenants, claiming that they had damaged his property. Prosecutors claim that Mr. Shahid filed eviction lawsuits against his tenants after they called 311 to complain about the state of his properties.

Mr. Shahid is not alone in his unscrupulous business plans in the highly sought after borough of Brooklyn. Recently, Yury Baumblit, age 67, pleaded guilty to a first-degree scheme to defraud. According to the court record, Mr. Baumblit ran a company called Back on Track, Inc. This company rented out “three-quarter” houses, similar to halfway houses. The tenants in his homes received shelter allowance, while some other paid him in cash. For nearly two years, the defendant illegally evicted at least 10 tenants who had stayed in rooms for over 30 days. Landlords cannot evict tenants who have occupied a room or a bed for 30 days in a row without a court order. Mr. Baumblit required all of his tenants to attend a substance abuse program, even if they did not have any issues with substance abuse.

In one case, a resident lived in one of Mr. Baumblit’s buildings for over a year. During this time, Baumblit, or one of his employees, locked the residence up during the day, preventing the tenant from accessing his unit. The same resident had seen Mr. Baumblit removing mattresses belonging to tenants, or damaging appliances in the units so they could not cook or keep food. Another tenant was evicted by Mr. Baumblit after living there six months. He returned home with his belongings removed and another person in his bed. Mr. Baumblit pled guilty in exchange for a potential sentence of between one and a half to three years in prison.

Just last year, another landlord was sentenced to one year in jail after his illegal schemes to defraud tenants and banks. Steven Croman’s company owned over 140 apartment buildings in Manhattan. Mr. Croman was charged with submitted false documents listing rent-controlled units as actually market-rate apartments. He also inflated his commercial rental rates in order to obtain better refinancing from lenders.

On top of this, he was a pretty bad landlord. Croman was accused of filing baseless lawsuits against his tenants or other residents to get them to move or refused to acknowledge rental checks that were sent to him. Then he sued his tenants for unpaid rent. Mr. Croman often violated health codes in his efforts to get residents to relocate. Health department investigators measured illegally high levels of lead dust at least 20 times in his buildings. Croman harassed, intimidated and defrauded tenants or other residents who lived in rent-controlled buildings so they would leave. He would then turn the buildings into more profitable market-rent units. Last year, he pleaded guilty to grand larceny, falsifying business records and criminal tax fraud. In addition to one year on Riker’s Island, Mr. Croman was also ordered to pay $5 million in a tax settlement to the state.

Shady business practices by landlords are not always confined to civil litigation. In some cases, their behavior can be so depraved that it rises to the level of criminality.

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