AG nails landlord for breaking rent law, promises more to come

Lawmakers demanded stronger protections for tenants amid landlord calls for rent law rollback at Friday conference

Attorney General Letitia James (Getty)
Attorney General Letitia James (Getty)

Ink Property Group and three of its principals will pay up to $1.75 million to settle claims by state Attorney General Letitia James that they duped rent-stabilized tenants out of leases, illegally deregulated units and falsified financial documents to secure bank loans.

But for now, Ink is on the hook for only a fraction of that.

The firm has shelled out $300,000 to a state affordable housing fund and promised $400,000 to the tenants who endured harassment, plus $2,500 each to the renters who lived through hazardous conditions created by construction work on vacant units.

However, the settlement stipulates that so long as the landlord cooperates with the attorney general’s office over the next three years, answering requests for records and documents, James will waive $1.45 million of the penalty.

Usually, such settlements allow the target of the probe to deny wrongdoing, but in this case James said Ink admitted to violating the rent-stabilization law.

The attorney general said the case was one of several underway involving rent-stabilized owners who cheat.

“Obviously, our focus and our investigation and the complaints we received are not just limited to Ink Property Group,” James said. “ There are other investigations.”

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Attorney General of New York Letitia James (Getty Images, iStock)
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State and city lawmakers, speaking at a Friday press conference, seized on the Ink allegations to push for stricter enforcement of the rent law.

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The case is a reminder of the harassment and rule-breaking that pervaded under the previous version of the rent law, which rewarded owners when tenants vacated a unit.

The settlement explains that Ink’s Robert Kaydanian — who made the public advocate’s “worst landlord” list when James held that office in 2016 — along with Alex Kahen and Eden Ashourzadeh snapped up 32 buildings in the five years before the law was revised in June 2019.

The owners illegally deregulated apartments by offering tenants buyouts without providing written notice, then continuing to make offers after being rejected — displacing tenants of at least 80 units. They also collected higher rents than regulation allowed and misrepresented to the state the number of rent-stabilized units they owned.

Ink also deregulated units without performing the individual apartment improvements that justified the rent increases that made the units eligible to go market-rate.

The settlement also says the firm treated “all renovated units as unregulated, regardless of whether the unit actually achieved high-rent deregulation or not.” The threshold has since been removed from the law, closing that path to deregulation.

Ink could not be immediately reached for comment.

Although most of the financial incentives to push out tenants have been struck from the law, issues persist. Critics of the 2019 reform said it would cause landlords to reduce spending on their buildings, as their ability to recover those costs by raising rents was severely limited.

Maria de la Rosa, a tenant of Ink’s 298 North Eighth Street, said the landlord’s negligence resulted in nine vacancies in her 14-unit building over the past two years. Meanwhile, she said, repair requests have been ignored and rat and roach infestations have grown worse.

“This makes us believe that Ink’s strategy is to tire us out so we lose faith and that we give up our apartments,” she said through a translator.

North Brooklyn Assembly member Emily Gallagher, one of several lawmakers who attended James’ press conference to announce the settlement, said, “Property owners who are coming in and sweeping these buildings, they are pissed that we passed those laws that help keep people in their houses.”