The rent-stabilized building in Brownsvile. Photo: Google Maps

On January 28, Albert De La Tierra got a disturbing phone call.

While away in California to care for his sick mother, the Brownsville resident says he got a call from his fiancée advising him the entire contents of his apartment appeared to have been placed on the sidewalk for garbage pick-up.

And, according to a lawsuit filed last week against his landlord, when he returned a few days later, he discovered he’d been shut out, the locks changed.

When he finally got back inside with the help of the NYPD, he says discovered the apartment empty and under renovation.

“Due to the [the landlord’s] actions, [De La Tierra] has been left and remains traumatized, heartbroken, and defeated,” the lawsuit says.

“All of his personal property were thrown out like trash and his apartment no longer feels like a home.

An offer

De La Tierra filed the lawsuit against his landlord Yechiel Weinberger and Rockaway 154 LLC on July 14.

In 2015, Weinberger was named the third-worst landlord in the city by then-Public Advocate Letitia James.

She said, at the time, the landlord owned nine buildings in Brooklyn with a combined 316 units across 11 buildings, and a total of 1,392 Department of Housing Preservation violations and 52 Department of Buildings complaints.

Protestors gathered in Bushwick to support tenants displaced by fire. Photo: Anna Bradley-Smith for BK Reader.

De La Tierra’s alleged ordeal started when he became unemployed in late 2019 and fell behind on rent, his lawsuit states. His apartment at 196 Rockaway Parkway was rent stabilized, and he paid $1,118 per month.

He said in August 2020 Weinberger called him and offered him a buyout of his tenancy and waiver of his rental arrears if he left the apartment and handed in the keys. De La Tierra declined.

Illegal lockout?

In January, the Brownsville tenant told Weinberger he had to travel to California to take care of his sick mom, but that he would be back, the lawsuit says.

However, at the end of the month, his partner went to the apartment to find the contents of De La Tierra’s apartment on the curb.

“All his furniture, clothes and other belongings had been removed by the defendants and placed on the sidewalk for garbage pick-up,” the lawsuit states.

When De La Tierra returned, he found he’d been locked out, and so he contacted the police. In the meantime, he crashed with a neighbor.

Protestors gathered in Bushwick to support tenants displaced by fire. Photo: Anna Bradley-Smith for BK Reader.

The NYPD told the landlord to let de La Tierra back into his apartment, and when that didn’t happen, they told him to get a locksmith to get back in.

Inside, he discovered his apartment was being renovated. His furniture had been disposed of and the electricity and gas were switched off.

“Plaintiff was frustrated and distraught because all of his personal items gone, including letters from his children,” the lawsuit alleges.

De La Tierra says Weinberger told him he locked him out because of allegations of prostitution and drug dealing in the apartment — both of which he denies.

However, even if a tenant is doing those things, a landlord still legally needs to start a special proceeding to remove a tenant for those reasons, he says.

Damages

De La Tierra says he is now forced to replace all of the items he amassed over the years, alleging the landlord threw out an estimated $35,000 worth of his stuff.

“Some of the items were irreplaceable due to their sentimental value,” the lawsuit states.

“He continues to be fearful of possible retaliation by the landlord and is afraid that if he leaves his apartment again, the defendants may try a lock him out again.”

The lawsuit is taking action under the New York City Administrative Code, which makes it unlawful to stop someone from living in their home without first getting a court or government order.

While the state’s Safe Harbor Act is preventing warrants of eviction for non-payment of rent for the time being, some Brooklyn tenants report landlords are trying to harass them out of their homes. Photo courtesy of Equality for Flatbush via Facebook

De La Tierra also accuses the landlord of harrassment, alleging Weinberger gave him an unlawful buyout offer, illegally locked him out, cut off essential services and threw out his belongings.

He’s seeking treble damages, civil penalties for the landlord and attorney’s fees.

The lawsuit comes months after Brooklyn and Bronx tenants rallied outside Weinberger’s building in Borough Park, demanding he cancel rent and drop housing court charges filed against tenants, News 12 reported.

The tenants said the conditions in Weinberger’s buildings were inhumane, with dirty water, stoves that didn’t work and no heat for months.

Protesters rally in front of housing court. Photo: Kevin Limiti for BK Reader.

In that case, Weinberger’s attorney replied, telling News 12: “The landlord has been working diligently to inspect and repair conditions alleged by tenants.

“When notice of a condition is provided, access is arranged, and repairs are completed as quickly as possible. The landlord stands ready, willing and able to make all repairs as required by law. However, some tenants have failed to provide access.”

Weinberger has been reached for comment on De La Tierra’s case. His attorney at Brooklyn Legal Services was also reached for comment.

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Jessy Edwards

Jessy Edwards is a freelance writer based in Bushwick. Originally from New Zealand, she has written for the BBC, Rolling Stone, NBC New York, CNBC and her hometown newspaper, The Dominion Post, among others.

Join the Conversation

10

  1. I’m a landlord and have a tenant who skipped out while only $17,000 in back rent. When are you going to interview me and hear my plight?

    1. That’s called a bad investment. Landlord isn’t a real job, maybe go get one if you’re in dire straights.

  2. Some renters are out for free living cause thay can’t buy there own home.get your life toghter amd buy your own house or deal with it exum bag.

  3. What the landlord did was illegal. The landlord should have filled in the courts to evict. Without a court order to evict signed by a judge. The landlord had no right to change locks, or to touch the tenants belongings. The landlord is in the wrong and owes the tenant monetary damages.

  4. Have been a tenant for 6 years..My thing is I pay my rent before I pay anything..I save 20 dollars a month out of my SS deposit…It adds up.. Out of that I have my spending money after paying my utilities..I only buy what I need not what I want..When the stimulus money came I saved it and its now my emergency funds..pay your bills and you won’t have a large bill you have to pay…My landlord is grateful to me.

  5. I hope this story is updated. I pray this man gets everything he asks for in court. This landlord was so wrong for what he has done to this man and the other tenants he has. Maybe there should be a law that makes it harder for landlord’s to keep their properties if they keep screwing their tenant’s over and making kid’s live in horrible condition’s.

    1. Is easy for Cuomo and DiBlassio to fix the covid 19 with the landlords. Why they don’t tell wallmart to provide free food/groceries. Donal Trump to allow all his real estate to be used by homeless and irresponsible tenants. The answer they will get is a flipped bird. But small landlords are foreclosing. No wonder everybody is fleeing NYC. The end result is : price of houses and rent will increase tremendously. Now I understand why so many people hate coming to NYC.

    2. Poor tenant claiming 35k in losses. Come on give me a break. Tenant is the abuser and for guys like him the rent will go up to the point nobody could afford it.

  6. My apartment manager did a similar thing to me! I live in the suburbs of a large Midwestern city, and am a disabled senior citizen. I am very independent, just physically comprimised, following a serious spinal injury, and an assault that almost took my life! I could not afford to hire a mover, as Covid not only made getting a mover difficult, in the area, and since I lived in a more affluent neighborhood, quotes were above what I could afford, living on Social Security! It took much longer, and the management harassed me constantly! I was also forced to pack during the very hot daytime, being told that I could not load my thing in the evening or at night when it was cool. I knew that I would owe extra rent and asked, several times, how much, so I could pay it. When I vacated my unit, I had posessions that would not fit in my moving vehicle. I wrote a note to management, telling her I would be back, by the weekend, ( 48-72 hours) to get the remainder of my things in my locked storage unit. had a 2 1/2 hour drive to my new place, and had to unload, as well. The Friday of the week I left, ( and according to the laws in this state I had 30 days, following a written notice to before my belongings could be destroyed, sold, or whatever) the maintained Center man cut my lock, took my $140.00 moving Dolly, about $500.00 in hand tools, and many other personal posessions, then invited the residents to take what they wanted. I estimate my loss to be around $15,000.00! A police report was filed, and I I am seeking legal help. One of the officers that took the root, from my friend, and former neighbor, who witnessed everything, said I have a legal case, and that this was elderly abused! I was a very good renter; paid on time and never caused any trouble. They never did this to anyone, in the 4 4 1/2 years I lived there. They never fixed anything I asked to have fixed, but I never complained. I don’t understand what has happened to the Christian principles that American’Staffordshire use to have. I have enough problems, just dealing with my disability. I worked for years to purchase most of these things, many of which are irreplaceable. They even threw out my new winter coat that my sister bought, because I didn’t have a really warm one, only a spring/fall jacket with a sweatshirt under it!

  7. To: Kelley. Everyone should be held accountable. Im quite sure tenant knew of the renovation. People are taking advantages of the do not put out tenants since last year. Surely there are guide lines landlords and tenants must follow. There us another side to this story. We as landlords and tenants has a responsibility and we must do it. As for your comment involving kids I love kids but parents need to be responsible when it comes to necessities for themselves and their children.

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