Nov. 6, 2017 by Nathaly Pesantez
Two Bushwick landlords are set to pay $132,000 in a settlement with the office of Eric Echneiderman, the Attorney General of New York, for violating anti-harassment laws as they convinced tenants to move out of their apartments in exchange for money.
The settlement, reached on Oct. 30, requires brothers Graham Jones and Greg Jones, real estate developers and landlords to three Bushwick buildings, to jointly pay the restitution funds that will go toward financing projects for affordable housing, according to the Attorney General’s office.
Both brothers began to personally approach tenants living in rent-stabilized apartments within three buildings, 1075 Greene Ave., 920 Bushwick Ave. and 946 Bushwick Ave., purchased by the pair in June 2016.
For one year, Greg and Graham made buyout offers to 33 tenants, who all accepted, but who were not informed of their tenancy rights, which include tenants having the right to seek guidance from an attorney and the right to reject the buyout and continue living in their space.
Of the 33 tenants who accepted the buyout offer, 22 of them came from 946 Bushwick Ave. Five of the offers were accepted by tenants of 920 Bushwick Ave., and the remaining six offers were from tenants living at 1075 Greene Ave.
The Attorney General’s office said they were made aware of the practices after some tenants complained about the Jones’ brothers “aggressive tactics”.
“Tenants should never feel harassed into vacating their homes,” said Attorney General Schneiderman in a statement. “This settlement makes clear that we will aggressively enforce the law to protect tenants from those who seek to put profit before New Yorkers’ rights — and we’ll continue to fight for the tougher state laws we need to criminally crack down on tenant harassment.”
The settlement is viewed as a victory for housing and tenant rights, especially given the increasing interests by developers towards Bushwick. “In the rapidly changing neighborhood, newly renovated apartments can demand high rents—unaffordable to the majority of long-term Bushwick tenants,” reads part of A.G. Schneiderman’s release.
Councilmember Antonio Reynoso, who represents Bushwick, said affordable housing is constantly threatened by disguised landlord practices, and applauded the settlement. “It sends a strong message to predatory landlords about harassment, accountability, and the law,” Reynoso said in a statement.
Greg and Graham were also the subjects of several lawsuits put forth by tenants of the three properties. A complaint filed late 2016 by tenants of 946 Bushwick Ave. alleged that the landlords failed to offer reasonable accommodations to disabled tenants after notices went up in their building about elevator repairs that would take four to six months. A settlement was reached in February.
Other complaints from tenants at 1075 Greene Ave. and 920 Bushwick Ave. allege that the superintendent continuously intimidated and harassed residents of the buildings, according to court records.
Greg and Graham Jones are co-founders of GRJ, a company that focuses on acquiring “mismanaged” multi-family and mixed-use properties and renovating them and increasing their value. The company, founded in 2010, was profiled in a 2015 piece by The New York Times, where the two brothers spoke of their practice involving purchasing “dilapidated” buildings, refurbishing them, and raising rents.