Judge denies Zara Realty’s bid to dismiss AG lawsuit

Major Queens landlord fighting allegations of excessive fees for rent-stabilized tenants

144-06 88th Avenue in Queens and Attorney General Letitia James (Google Maps; James byErik McGregor/LightRocket via Getty Images)
144-06 88th Avenue in Queens and Attorney General Letitia James (Google Maps; James byErik McGregor/LightRocket via Getty Images)

A lawsuit by the New York attorney general’s office against a major Queens landlord can proceed, a judge has ruled.

The suit alleges that Anthony Subraj’s Zara Realty, a Jamaica-based firm with about 2,500 apartments, charged excessive fees in 38 rent-stabilized buildings, targeting lower-income immigrant tenants.

It also accuses Zara of coercing tenants into signing improper leases, collecting broker’s fees for rent-regulated apartments through a company controlled by the firm’s principal, and charging security deposits that were three to four times one months’ rent. Rent-stabilization law limits security deposits for rent-regulated apartments to one month’s rent and also prohibits landlords from collecting broker fees.

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The suit was one of Attorney General Letitia James’ first after becoming the state’s lawyer and top prosecutor 20 months ago.

“This ruling ensures that the owners of Zara Realty can no longer hide behind an LLC, and can be held liable for their blatant pattern of tenant harassment,” James said in a statement, adding that her office found some tenants had paid more than $11,000 just to move into a rent-stabilized apartment.

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Zara’s lawyers downplayed the ruling, saying the dismissal is a routine court procedure and doesn’t necessarily lend credibility to the claims in the suit.

“This ruling does not change our view: That the allegations, many of them factually inaccurate, concern complex legal issues that are subject to various interpretations under the law, including conflicting judicial opinions, and will be vigorously contested,” said attorneys Niles Welikson and Randi Gilbert in a statement.

Asked if Zara would appeal the ruling, the lawyers said they are exploring all options.

Courts remain closed for most non-essential matters. Some non-essential hearings will proceed virtually.

While Zara contends with the litigation, it may have more immediate matters to address in its Queens buildings: the coronavirus has hit the borough especially hard and some of Zara’s tenants are withholding rent. The firm said it is distributing free face masks to all tenants and performing deep cleanings and disinfections in common areas and apartments.

But its tenants, organized by the Bangladeshi Tenant Union, were some of the first to announce their intent to go on rent strike starting in May. One of the tenant organizers leading the strike said that Zara “doesn’t deserve rent.”