LOWER EAST SIDE — Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has reached a $225,000 settlement with landlord Sami Mahfar following an investigation that uncovered harassment tactics, dangerous living conditions and failure to provide heat and hot water.
The years-long investigation started by Schneiderman in November 2014 found that Mahfar's companies tried to force rent-regulated tenants at several Lower East Side buildings — 22 Spring St., 102 Norfolk St., 113 Stanton St., and 210 Rivington St. — out of their homes with dangerous construction and aggressive buyout offers.
The companies carried out demolition and construction work on the properties that kicked up unsafe levels of lead in the air. Some of the tenants in the buildings were pregnant or had children, said the settlement.
At 102 Norfolk St., dust covering the building's stairs was found to contain as high as 40,000 micrograms per square foot and 110,000 micrograms per square foot of lead, according to the settlement agreement. The limit for lead concentration on floors per the city's health code is 40 micrograms per square foot.
The construction work caused health problems for tenants — a high school student at 210 Rivington St. had an asthma attack that landed him in the emergency room, which his family believes was a result of the lead-contaminated dust, according tot he settlement.
The companies also hired Misidor LLC, a "relocator" whose principal repeatedly threatened tenants that if they didn't accept the buyout offers they would be forced to endure the disruptive construction. Mahfar's SMA Equities claimed that relocator was left over from a previous building owner and was dismissed when tenants complained.
The companies continually carried out work without making the proper filings with city and state agencies and lied in filings made with the Department of Buidlings.
The settlement, announced by Schneiderman's office Thursday, requires Mahfar to cough up $175,000 to the city's Housing and Preservation Department and $50,000 to the State of New York. The money allocated to HPD will go towards remediation of rent-stabilized housing, and will buy new X-Ray Florescence (XRF) Equipment used to test for lead in paint.
The settlement also called for a third-party manager to oversee the buildings.
Tenants had brought their own lawsuits against Mahfar over the conditions in their buildings, resulting in rent abatements and other concessions, according to the settlement.
“Landlords must not use harassment or subject tenants to unsafe construction to drive rent-stabilized tenants out of their homes. Unfortunately, across the city, unscrupulous landlords look to take advantage of New York’s real estate market at the expense of their rent-regulated tenants – and we won’t hesitate to fight back using all tools at our disposal,” said Schneiderman in a statement.
Mahfar's company SMA Equities praised the "mutually acceptable agreement" and noted it required no admission of guilt on Mahfar's part. The company also claimed that while some tenants had complained of conditions, others had been thankful for improvements made to the buildings, and that any claims of "deliberate misconduct" were unsubstantiated.
Ultimately, the settlement will allow the company to continue improvements to the buildings, the company said in a statement.
"The settlement reaffirms our commitment to the neighborhood and to our long standing policy of fair housing to local residents, improving aging buildings, and to our continued investment in New York City," said the company in its statement. "We believe that our interests, the interests of the tenants and the public officials are aligned. We all want excellent housing."
The settlement agreement can be read in its entirety below.