NEW YORK – New York State Homes and Community Renewal Commissioner RuthAnne Visnauskas and the Tenant Harassment Prevention Task Force (Task Force) today announced a settlement with Greg Fournier and his real estate company, Greenbrook Holdings, LLC (Greenbrook), for harassing tenants and engaging in unlawful practices in managing its buildings in Brooklyn. Greenbrook owns 188 buildings comprising approximately 1,000 units, many of which are rent-stabilized, in New York City and state, with the majority in neighborhoods throughout Brooklyn. Tenants were subjected to dangerous living conditions, including but not limited to illegal construction and frequent interruption of essential services such as gas and water. As a result of the settlement announced today, Fournier and Greenbrook will pay $100,000 in penalties to the New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development, credit $7,500 to every current tenant who moved into ten of their worst buildings on or before July 1, 2021, hire external monitors to oversee construction activity and compliance, and correct hundreds of violations across 22 of the most egregiously managed buildings within 60 days of signing.
The Task Force is comprised of the Office of the Attorney General (OAG), the Tenant Protection Unit (TPU) of New York State Homes and Community Renewal, the New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD), the New York City Department of Buildings (DOB), and the New York City Law Department (NYCLD).
“In addition to the hundreds of egregious violations of city tenant protection laws, Fournier and Greenbrook failed to register rent stabilized units with HCR, a lawful requirement of all owners of rent regulated apartments in the city of New York which serves to protect tenants from illegal rent hikes and harassment designed to displace them,” said New York State Homes and Community Renewal Commissioner RuthAnne Visnauskas. “Today’s settlement sends a clear message to property owners inclined to flout regulations designed to protect affordable rental housing units that the State will not stand idly by as they do so. We are grateful to our partners in the Task Force for our ongoing collaboration that yields such valuable outcomes for vulnerable tenants in New York. Since the creation of the State's TPU, the unit’s audit, investigative, and enforcement activities have recaptured and registered over 95,000 improperly deregulated apartments and proactively recovered approximately $6.6 million in overcharged rent for tenants unaware they were being unlawfully overcharged.”
Between 2019 and 2021, Greenbrook purchased new properties in the City and State of New York and immediately began significant construction projects. As Greenbrook continued to purchase more buildings and take over management of those buildings, members of the Task Force received multiple complaints from tenants about management and habitability of some Greenbrook buildings, detailing issues such as unsafe conditions, unpermitted construction activities, warehoused apartments, lack of regular maintenance and repairs, failure to comply with rent regulation requirements, and harassment. In December 2020, HPD initiated comprehensive litigation against two of the buildings.
An expanded investigation conducted by the Task Force agencies found Mr. Fournier and Greenbrook engaged in dangerously negligent conduct in the ownership, management, and operation of the buildings, totaling nearly 1,000 units, many of which are rent stabilized. primarily located in Brooklyn, New York. Site inspections coordinated by HPD with DOB and TPU revealed that Greenbrook was engaging in illegal and unsafe construction projects without the appropriate permits, often leaving tenants without access to essential resources such as water, heat, and gas. Greenbrook also consistently failed to file the required annual building and unit registrations for rent stabilized tenants. 22 buildings comprising 288 units that require additional enforcement – these are the 22 buildings targeted in today’s settlement, which among them currently have 705 open Housing Maintenance Code violations with HPD.
Overall, there are more than 1,200 open HPD violations and 700 total DOB violations throughout Greenbrook’s buildings. Some of the most dangerous violations include lead-based hazards, unsafe or exposed electrical wiring, leaky roofs, lack of cooking gas, pest nuisances, missing or defective smoke and carbon dioxide detectors, and construction work without a permit. In two separate buildings, Greenbrook’s unpermitted work involved gas pipes, leading to gas being shut off in both buildings. In another building, Greenbrook engaged in outdoor construction work that resulted in debris falling into adjacent yards and alleyways, when they only had a permit for interior work at that time.
Under the settlement, Greenbrook will correct all Housing Maintenance Code and Multiple Dwelling Law violations in the 22 buildings and submit all documents and fees for a “Dismissal Request” inspection to HPD no later than 60 days after signing. Greenbrook will also correct all Construction Code violations issued by DOB and the Task Force.
Greenbrook must also hire, at its own expense, a Construction Review Monitor that will review and approve Greenbrook’s tenant protection plans for all construction activities before submission to DOB for three years. Greenbrook must also hire a compliance officer to inspect and monitor all of Greenbrook’s construction activities, including random unannounced inspections of Greenbrook’s construction sites, a first-of-its-kind stipulation. The monitor and compliance officer are both subject to approval by the Task Force and will submit regular reports to the Task Force on Greenbrook’s progress. Greenbrook will also update paperwork and registrations for all buildings and units covered by New York City’s rent stabilization laws.
The settlement also identifies ten buildings that have the most serious and concerning conditions, and Greenbrook must pay all current tenants who moved into those ten buildings on or before July 1, 2021 a $7,500 rent credit. Greenbrook will also provide a 15 percent rental abatement per day for any tenant who experiences a disruption in access to water, heat, electricity, or gas going forward. In addition to these individual payments, Greenbrook will pay $100,000 in penalties for violations associated with the ten properties.
Commissioner Visnauskas offered special thanks to HCR’s Tenant Protection Unit for their work on the case, notably Legal Director Argyro Boyle and Senior Attorney Jonathan O. Hurt, who served as the investigating attorneys, and TPU Deputy Commissioner Pavita Krishnaswamy. Commissioner Visnauskas also thanked fellow members of the Tenant Harassment Prevention Task Force for their ongoing partnership and collaboration in fighting for New York tenants.
“Greenbrook and Mr. Fournier forced tenants to live in unsafe and unacceptable conditions with no regard for anything but their own bottom line,” said Attorney General James. “Tenants lived through dangerous construction, went without essential services such as gas and water, and suffered unsanitary conditions, putting the health and safety of families at risk. As our state continues to battle this housing crisis, my office and the Tenant Harassment Prevention Task Force will always stand up for New York tenants in the face of illegal abuse.”
“No landlord is above the law, especially when it comes to harassing tenants by subjecting them to dangerous living conditions,” said NYC Department of Housing Preservation and Development Commissioner Adolfo Carrión Jr. “Through this settlement, our task force is bringing Greenbrook to justice and putting the tenants on a clear path to better living conditions.”
“Putting tenants at risk with shoddy and unpermitted construction work is dangerous and unacceptable,” said NYC Department of Buildings Commissioner Eric Ulrich. “Today’s announcement is a major victory for Greenbrook’s tenants, and hopefully a deterrent to those who might contemplate using construction as a tool for harassment.”
“This settlement will bring relief to thousands of Brooklyn residents who are subjected to unsafe building conditions because of landlord neglect,” said NYC Corporation Counsel Sylvia Hinds-Radix. “The City and State will continue working together through the Tenant Harassment Prevention Task Force to protect tenants and hold accountable landlords who violate their rights.”