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“Bernie Madoff of Landlords” Facing 25 Years in Prison

Manhattan landlord Steve CromanManhattan landlord Steve Croman used intimidation and harassment to force “countless working-class and low-income families out of their longtime homes,” alleges the office of New York State attorney general Eric T. Schneiderman.

Over the course of a 25-year career in real estate, Croman purchased over 140 apartment buildings, many of them inhabited by rent-stabilized tenants whom he referred to as “targets,” and systematically bought them out to raise rent. His buyout scheme was highly effective, with most of his buildings cleared of its old tenants within just a few years.

Croman has been widely known for his slimy behavior for years now. Attorney general Scheiderman has dubbed him the “Bernie Madoff of landlords,” and the Village Voice referred to Croman as “The Repeat Offender” when he ranked 8th in the city’s Worst Landlords list in 2014.

Tenants have accused Croman of turning off their gas and hot water, filling their apartments with construction dust, and repeatedly filing frivolous lawsuits against them all in order to get them to move out.

One family living in a rent-stabilized apartment returned from vacation in July 2014 to discover that the steam heat in their unit had been turned so high that electrical outlets had burst out of the walls, wooden shelves had collapsed, glass furniture had shattered, and wine bottles had been uncorked.

Croman encouraged a “team sport” mentality towards pushing out tenants, and allegedly chanted “buyouts, buyouts” throughout his office. He awarded one property manager a $10,000 bonus for getting a tenant out of their apartment.

According to the attorney general’s charges, Croman’s director of security Anthony Falconite, a former New York police officer, was directly responsible for intimidating Croman’s “targets” to move out. Falconite allegedly stalked tenants and in at least once case threatened arrest.

Croman’s behavior has made him a target for officials like attorney general Schneiderman and New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, who has prioritized affordable city housing and has pledged to go after abusive landlords.

Following a two-year investigation into Croman and his team, the attorney general’s office filed a lawsuit against the landlord seeking millions of dollars in penalties and compensation for victimized tenants.

Facing 20 felony charges, including criminal tax fraud, grand larceny, falsifying business records and exaggerating his income in order to obtain over $45 million in loans, Croman turned himself into the authorities last week. He faces up to 25 years in prison.

Croman’s arrest is a victory for tenants throughout the city that have been ripped off by abusive landlords, but it is a small one.

There were 7 other landlords that ranked higher than Croman on the 2014 Worst Landlords list. In 2015, he didn’t appear on the list at all. Criminal buyout tactics like Croman’s are widespread in New York, and they need to be stopped.

We hope that Croman’s criminal case sends a message to landlords throughout the city that this behavior is unacceptable, and it carries serious consequences.

Sources:

Barker, Kim and Jessica Silver-Greenberg, “Regular on New York’s ‘Worst Landlords’ Lists Is Charged,” The New York Times, 9 May 2016.

Romm, Cari, “The Ten Worst New York City Landlords of 2014,” The Village Voice, 15 December 2014.

Smith, Greg B., “Multimillionaire Manhattan landlord probed for possibly using illegal tactics to force out rent-stabilized tenants,” New York Daily News, 26 July 2014.