A joint city-state task force has fined a New York property management company half a million dollars for forcing hundreds of tenants to live in “hazardous living conditions.”
The Tenant Harassment Prevention Task Force found that ICON Realty Management repeatedly subjected tenants at properties in the East Village, Lower East Side and Brooklyn to unpermitted construction that resulted in excessive dust and debris, sub-par utility service and, at times, a lack of elevator service.
By virtue of a settlement, ICON, a property owner, manager and developer which owns more than 1,800 units throughout Greenwich Village, the Lower East Side, Chelsea and the Upper East Side, according to its website, will have to pay $300,000 to the state and $200,000 in fines, fees and other costs to the various city departments that participated in the investigation.
In addition to the construction—which the task force said sometimes went beyond the scope permitted by the city’s building department and other times was not sanctioned at all—the task force said ICON would ignore tenant requests for repairs, sometimes leaving them without heat, hot water or cooking gas. The company also left construction sites on its properties dirty and unkempt.
Along with the fines, the task force said it secured rent abatements for the tenants who experienced extended lapses in utility coverage. It also required ICON to adopt policies to avoid future violations, bring its buildings up to code and appoint a tenant liaison to address residents’ issues. The task force will appoint an independent monitor to make sure ICON complies with its orders.
However, ICON Management, which is led by principals Terrence Lowenberg and Todd Cohen, disputes the task force’s characterization of its properties as “completely overblown and misleading.”
Ken Fisher, an attorney for the company, said the construction issues were isolated to “a handful of buildings” and they were addressed more than a year ago when ICON elected to give out rent abatements and implement its own policy changes.
“Icon is proud of having grown its business from one building to over 100 over the last decade and a half without any controversy until there were some unfortunate problems in a few of its buildings which were addressed at the time,” Fisher wrote in an email. “The company deeply regrets the inconvenience to the tenants in those buildings.”
He added that ICON’s actions never amounted to harassment and the task force’s claims to the contrary are merely “political hype.” He noted that the $300,000 going to the state does not constitute a fine but rather restitution of the investigation’s cost while the $200,000, is comprised of “routine fines for building violations that every landlord faces,” some of which can be tied back to previous building owners.”
Fisher added, “Across its portfolio, Icon has less than an average of one violation per apartment, far below the City’s management standard. The Task Force’s press release is completely overblown and misleading and the company is reviewing its legal options.”
Founded in 2015, the task force includes the governor’s Tenant Protection Unit, the attorney general’s office as well as the city’s housing preservation and building departments. The group’s multi-faceted approach to ICON’s violations was the first of its kind and meant to send a message to other lawless landlords, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said in a prepared statement.
“This settlement agreement makes it clear that we have zero tolerance for a landlord’s illegal and harmful construction that exposes tenants to harassing and hazardous living conditions,” Cuomo said. “I am proud of the TPU and all the work we’ve accomplished with the Task Force to protect rent-regulated tenants from predatory and abusive landlords. New Yorkers have the right to safe decent homes that do not jeopardize their health and safety.”