A Brooklyn landlord from Great Neck has been indicted on charges that he undertook unbearable construction work to drive out rent-regulated occupants -- what the state attorney general called "textbook tenant harassment."
As apartment doors of 1578 Union St. were replaced with plywood, heat and hot water throttled, and demolition dust spiked lead levels to 88 times the threshold legally allowed, the number of occupied units dwindled from 14 to three, Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman said Wednesday outside the Crown Heights building.
"No one should have to live like this. No mother should have to raise a child in these conditions," he said in announcing the arrests of the landlord, Daniel Melamed, 37, and the engineer he hired to oversee construction, Pirooz Soltanizadeh, 39, of New Hyde Park.
A grand jury handed up an indictment Monday accusing Melamed of a felony, offering a false instrument for filing -- building plans that falsely stated that no tenants, rent regulated or otherwise, would be in the building; child endangerment -- because a 6-year-old lives there -- and unlawful eviction, both misdemeanors. Soltanizadeh was charged with the one felony. The men face up to 1 1/3 to 4 years in prison.
Bail for Melamed was set at $20,000 bond or $10,000 cash, and Soltanizadeh was freed without any bail set, according to Schneiderman spokesman Matt Mittenthal. Melamed made bail.
Melamed, who owns and manages six buildings in the city, bought the Union Street property in 2012, Schneiderman's office said.
Under certain circumstances, such as vacancies and renovations, the law allows for rent to go up as regulated housing and units shift to market rate.
"Bad landlords have an incredible incentive under the current laws to get rent-regulated tenants out of their buildings by any means necessary, and harassment is reaching new lows," Schneiderman said.
Melamed attorney Seth Denenberg of Manhattan didn't return messages seeking comment, and Melamed didn't reply to an email.
The engineer's attorney, John Tasolides of Syosset, said the allegations that his client filed false construction plans with the city's Department of Buildings is "absolutely not true" and that a "look at the form" would prove it. An electronic copy of the form, viewed Wednesday evening on the city's website, indicates "no" check marks on questions asking whether the building is subject to rent regulation or occupied during the work.
Schneiderman said his office would seek restitution from Melamed on behalf of the tenants.
The arrests were the first from a city and state task force announced in February to combat tenant harassment.