The “eco-yogi slumlords” who evicted tenants from their 1214 Dean St. house at the height of the pandemic will give their $2 million property to the City for affordable housing as a part of a $2.3 million lawsuit settlement.
Gennaro Brooks-Church and Loretta Gendville, the owners of the Crown Heights home, reached the settlement with the City after they were charged with violations of the NYC Unlawful Eviction Law, tenant harassment and construction code violations in November 2020.
The couple allegedly harassed and illegally evicted tenants from the Dean St. home in July 2020 and ran an unlawful short-term rental operation for four years across nine Brooklyn buildings, Attorney General Letitia James said Wednesday.
“During a period of unprecedented global struggle, Brooks-Church and Gendville callously forced New Yorkers from their homes.
“We have long seen these types of harmful housing scams, especially in Central Brooklyn, where people make a business out of unfairly and inhumanely pushing others out of their homes,” James said.
In early 2020, the Dean St. house was home to nine young roommates, many of whom were queer, Black or Brown and working low-wage service jobs. All were severely affected by the pandemic and were unable to pay rent during the early months of the eviction moratorium.
Brooks-Church, a self-proclaimed “green builder,” and Gendville, the owner of a Brooklyn yoga studio chain and a separate maternity and lifestyle retail store, attempted to evict the tenants in July 2020 and were met with more than 100 protestors who gathered to support the tenants.
AG James launched an investigation into the eviction in coordination with the City and found that the landlords used threats and force to push out at least four tenants at 1214 Dean Street — removing their possessions and changing the locks without providing the tenants with keys — violating the laws prohibiting landlord lockouts and circumventing the statewide eviction moratorium.
She also found that from January 2016 through at least the summer of 2020, Brooks-Church and Gendville ran an illegal short-term rental operation generating $1.4 million through 83 Airbnb listings. According to James’ office, “the scheme deceived nearly 5,600 guests, and prevented 14 homes across nine Brooklyn buildings from housing permanent tenants.”
The findings resulted in two lawsuits filed by the City and one filed by the former tenants, who brought an action for damages. The tenants have simultaneously settled with the couple and will receive a “substantial recovery for the damages and trauma they suffered from the unlawful eviction,” James said.
The City’s legal actions were coordinated jointly between the Office of the Attorney General, the Law Department, the Mayor’s Office of Special Enforcement, and Mayor’s Office to Protect Tenants, and were the City’s first-ever enforcement of the Unlawful Eviction Law in New York City.
As part of the City’s settlement, Brooks-Church and Gendville must transfer the Dean St. property to a City-designated entity for use as affordable housing; pay $125,000 to the OAG, to be put towards the attorney general’s Affordable Housing Fund; pay $125,000 in penalties to the City; agree to a permanent injunction against further illegal short-term rental activity anywhere in the city; and comply with laws governing rentals in New York state pursuant to a written agreement with the OAG.
“Let this serve as a warning: Any landlord who mistreats and tries to unlawfully evict renters will face the full force of my office and the law,” James said.
“We will continue to work closely with Mayor Adams and other government partners to ensure individuals like these can no longer terrorize New Yorkers.”
Mayor Adams said the settlement sent “a clear message to slumlords everywhere in the city: Cruel and illegal behavior will not be tolerated, and, as long as I am mayor, you will never get away with putting tenants at risk.”
“These landlords may have been sending a loving and peaceful message out publicly, but they were kicking tenants to the curb privately,” Adams said.
“Safe, affordable housing is not only vital to the city’s survival and public safety but is a basic human right, which is why my administration will never hesitate to stand up for tenants who are illegally harmed.
Officials said the New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development will work with an entity designated by the city to rehab the property for affordable housing.
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