NYS Attorney General Letitia James has secured over $400,000 for impacted tenants and up to $1.75 million to preserve affordable housing from Ink Property Group (Ink). The Office of the Attorney General (OAG) conducted a four-year investigation of Ink with assistance from NYS Homes and Community Renewal (HCR). This resulted in the discovery of various fraudulent acts Ink repeatedly and consistently committed for their own gain, in addition to evidence they violated the New York State Rent Stabilization Code, the New York City Rent Stabilization Law, and the New York City Housing Maintenance Code.
Between 2014 and early 2019, Ink bought 32 multifamily buildings in New York City, primarily in north Brooklyn and other predominantly low-income communities of color. Ink also served as property managers for twelve additional buildings. The company implemented a strategy of purchasing small- to medium-sized apartment buildings with units that were primarily rent-stabilized. Ink would then engage in a campaign to force out all the rent-stabilized tenants — first illegally approaching tenants with buyouts, then repeatedly and persistently subjecting tenants to harassment, and in some cases, creating hazardous conditions so tenants were forced to leave because their apartments were no longer habitable. Ink even provided monetary commissions to employees who successfully convinced tenants to move out, offering up to $5,000 for each buyout.
Once the apartments were empty they performed cosmetic touches and rented the unit at market rate, defying rent laws. After Ink’s ‘renovations’ buildings averaged more than 1,000 open housing violations, including 115 of the most hazardous violations for conditions such as lead-based paint and broken window guards. Some of the violations that remain open were issued as early as 2017.
That Ink harassed and violated their tenants’ rights came as no surprise to the OAG. Ink is managed by Eden Ashourzadeh, Alex Kahen, and Robert Kaydanian, the latter of the three made the Public Advocate’s Worst Landlord’s list in 2016, while James was serving as public advocate. On August 3, NYS Attorney General James announced she secured the above-mentioned settlement from Ink. In addition, Ink will bring at least 28 apartments that were illegally deregulated back into rent stabilization, making them permanently affordable. Furthermore, they now must install a monitor and external property management company to ensure compliance with rent stabilization laws and manage their buildings, which will be overseen by the OAG.
Tenant, Maria de la Rosa, lived in her rent-stabilized apartment for more than 30 years before Ink purchased the building. She was then persistently and aggressively approached with buyout offers from Ink staff. She always refused. However, Ink succeeded in displacing nearly half of Ms. de la Rosa’s neighbors, and then left the vacant units to fall into disrepair to such an extent that conditions impacted Ms. de la Rosa’s health and safety. Since Ink acquired the building, she has dealt with cracks on the walls, leaks, and rats.
“I decide to stay, I decide to organize, I decide to talk to my neighbors — to talk to St. Nicks Alliance, and fight back. And today we are here celebrating that we won,” said Maria de la Rosa at James’s August 5, press conference.
U.S. Representative Nydia Velázquez, NYS Assembly Member Emily Gallagher, NYC Council Members Lincoln Restler (D33) and Jennifer Gutiérrez (D34), tenants of Ink, tenant attorneys from Communities Resist (CoRe), and tenant advocates attended and participated in NYS Attorney General James’s press conference on the morning of August 5, held at St. Nicks Alliance (2 Kingsland Avenue).
James mentioned there are other landlords under investigation for ignoring rent laws and regulations, and that community organizations such as St. Nicks Alliance bring cases to the OAG for investigation. James also offered a list of red flags that may indicate their building’s owner is trying to skirt rent laws, “If in fact conditions have deteriorated, if in fact individuals go door to door knocking on your door basically offering you buyout money without complying with the law — and there is a law on the books [Local Law 102 of 2019 (Buyout Agreement Law)] that was passed by the NYC Council with respect to buyouts — it is important that individuals know their rights, individuals need to be provided notices, individuals need to be provided council: independent council, and individuals need to know the value of their property.”