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When Michael Cohen Was a Landlord, He Filed False Docs, Got Complaints from Miserable Tenants, Report Says


Cohen face

In addition to being the former personal attorney to the president of the United States and someone who has pleaded guilty to multiple federal crimes, Michael Cohen was an awful landlord, a New York Daily News investigative report reveals.

A review of public records showed that Cohen’s business partners, the Vintage Group, filed documents that improperly failed to say that three properties had “rent-stabilized tenants” when filing for construction permits.

What this did was help them avoid city oversight, and open the door to alleged abuse.

The New York Times has explained what New York City tenants need to know about construction and what they can do about it when it becomes hellish:

When buildings are occupied during construction, landlords must file tenant-protection plans with the buildings department and provide them to tenants upon request.

If you have been subjected to construction nuisances — or frivolous lawsuits, poor conditions or other harassment — you have a right to sue your landlord in housing court by filing what’s known as an HP action. Ask neighbors if they have experienced the same problems: Organized groups get the best results

Alternatively, regulated tenants [emphasis ours] can file complaints with the Division of Housing and Community Renewal or, for building-wide issues, with the Tenant Harassment Prevention Task Force.

Tenants reportedly complained about construction noise, ultimately left properties because they couldn’t deal with it anymore, and then Cohen made millions in profits by flipping the buildings.

All told, Cohen reportedly made $18 million on the three buildings mentioned between 2011 and 2014.

In case you are not familiar with what “rent-stabilized” means, New York City regulations say it exists to protect tenants from “sharp increases in rent and [give them] the right to renew their leases.”

In other words, no reasonable tenant would normally want to leave a situation where prices cannot skyrocket. Plus, they have the right to continue living on prime real estate, in many cases, if they so choose.

Despite this, the Daily News reports, 20 rent-stabilized tenants at one property dwindled to 11, and the reasons offered were incessant noise, disruption and ultimately landlord neglect. Therein lies the flip-side of rent-stabilization. Landlords don’t necessarily like rent-stabilized tenants because potential profit is artificially capped, and the tenants don’t have to go anywhere.

One way to get them out is to create an unlivable environment through “construction harassment.” Executive director of the Housing Rights Initiative Aaron Carr told the Daily News that’s exactly what happened here. Kushner Companies has been accused of doing the same thing in the past.

“Most tenants aren’t so willing to give up their affordability in the midst of an affordable-housing crisis. You have to threaten their safety and sanity,” he said. Carr said Cohen was liable for what was reported on permit applications because he was an owner.

Tenants repeatedly made complaints about construction noise, and also said the quality of the work was “shoddy.”

“They started the construction all at once. We were paranoid. We didn’t know what was going to happen,” one person said. “When a building is sold you never know, we’re stabilized […] things went downhill after [Cohen] bought it.”

Remarkably, that person had been in the building for 20 years and had no idea Cohen owned it until last week, when Cohen pleaded guilty to bank fraud, tax fraud and campaign finance violations.

Another person filed a complaint with the city all the way back in 2012 that said, “My half stabilized half recently destabilized building (due to gut renovation) is being used as a hotel & is listed on AirBnB.”

Neither Cohen nor his attorney Lanny Davis commented on the report; nor did a Vintage Group representative.

Cohen previously commented in 2017 that the “buyer of all four properties is a New York real estate family fund that has been around for almost a century.”

“And yes, they are American,” he added.

[Image via Yana Paskova and Getty Images]

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Matt Naham is the Senior A.M. Editor of Law&Crime.