The Real Deal New York

Icon Realty Management at center of tenant harassment probe

Joint state-city task force is investigating the landlord
By Mark Maurer and Will Parker | August 16, 2017 05:40PM

Terrence Lowenberg, Eric Schneiderman and Todd Cohen (Credit: Getty Images)

Icon Realty Management is being investigated by a joint state-city task force focused on preventing tenant harassment, The Real Deal has learned.

The task force has been looking into several complaints of tenant harassment while holding talks with the Noho-based real estate investment firm, according to sources familiar with the negotiations. The task force consists of the New York Attorney General’s office, the New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development, the city Department of Buildings and the state Division of Housing and Community Renewal.

A spokesperson for HPD confirmed it is currently investigating the firm. Representatives for the AG and DHCR declined to comment on active investigations. Representatives for the DOB did not respond to requests for comment.

Icon has not been charged nor subpoenaed, sources familiar with the investigation said, and added that the parties are in advanced talks regarding a potential settlement.

Icon principals Terrence Lowenberg and Todd Cohen declined to comment. Sources close to the company said the firm has changed its approach after it learned it was on the agencies’ radar.

“There were tenant complaints in a handful of buildings out of a portfolio of more than 100, and Icon proactively addressed that by adding tenant liaisons and safety supervisors, instituting new policies and offering rent abatements where appropriate,” the source close to Icon said. “Since then, there have been few if any complaints about repairs and we expect the protocols to continue to be used for the foreseeable future.”

Rent-stabilized tenants at Icon’s properties have been accusing the firm of harassment since at least 2008, when residents of 176 East 3rd Street protested buyout bids of up to $125,000. In the past two years, tenants claimed Icon aggressively tried to clear out properties such as 441-447 East 9th Street, 57 Second Avenue and 128 Second Avenue, according to reports in local blogs the Villager, EV Grieve and Bedford + Bowery.

Some tenants allege Icon’s tactics have resulted in ceiling collapses and dust clouds, with the landlord in some cases blaming building problems on the tenants themselves. One resident of the East 9th Street building told Bowery Boogie in 2016 that the landlord said that lack of hot water was due to “showering too long.”

At a protest rally last year over Icon’s gut renovation of two buildings, State Sen. Brad Hoylman cited notorious landlord Steve Croman’s recent arrest at the time: “Icon has to shape up or we’re going to see you in (civil) court… (If Croman’s arrest) is not a warning to Icon, I don’t know what is.”

The firm has not entirely escaped charges. Last year, the Department of Buildings charged Lowenberg for allegedly false filings on a construction permit for a rent-regulated West Village property at 56 West 11th Street. Charges were dropped later that year.

The tenant harassment task force now investigating Icon was first announced by Mayor Bill de Blasio, Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Attorney General Eric Schneiderman in February 2015.

Icon owns over 1,900 apartments across its portfolio citywide, and is particularly active in the East Village and on the Lower East Side.

At a time when most investors have slowed down, it has been steadily buying. The firm picked up a Chelsea office building for $33 million and two properties in an eight-building package that former Extell Development executive Dov Hertz flipped the contracts on.

Adam Pincus contributed reporting.