Lentol seeks immediate halt to evictions in wake of bribery scandal
The shocking scandal that has shaken the New York City Department of Buildings – a scandal that includes allegations that inspectors took bribes to evict tenants under false pretenses – should cause the agency to take a step back, according to one Brooklyn lawmaker.
Assemblymember Joseph Lentol (D-North Brooklyn) has written to Buildings Commissioner Rick Chandler requesting an immediate halt and a top-down reevaluation of all building evictions in the city.
“As the Department of Buildings begins to restore its image, I believe any decision to vacate a building should be reexamined,” Lentol wrote in his Feb. 11 letter to Chandler.
On Tuesday, the New York Times reported that more than a dozen building inspectors were charged with taking hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes. Among other things, the inspectors allegedly cleaned up complaints, canceled stop-work orders, expedited building inspections and sought to evict tenants from apartment houses under false pretenses in exchange for the bribes.
The bribes consisted of home mortgage payments, gifts of sport utility vehicles and in one case, a luxury cruise, according to the Times report, which cited records filed in State Supreme Court in Manhattan.
So far, 16 city workers have been charged in connection with the bribery scandal, including 11 Dept. of Buildings employees and five people employed by the city’s Dept. of Housing Preservation and Development. In addition, 31 property owners have been charged with paying bribes.
Two of the Dept. of Buildings inspectors allegedly took bribes and then ordered tenants to vacate a building in Bushwick. The eviction was vacated before the tenants were forced to leave.
Lentol said he was moved to act upon learning that tenants in a building in his assembly district were facing eviction.
“Yesterday, when the news of these transgressions broke, a 10-family building at 249 Norman Ave. in Brooklyn was inspected in my district with all families being forced to vacate. The timing couldn’t have been worse. The families were finding out that they were being evicted while simultaneously learning of the bribes paid to Department of Buildings’ Inspectors,” Lentol wrote.
“The ability of an inspector to declare a building unfit for occupancy requires impeccable judgment, as the inspector weighs the dangers of allowing a tenant to stay in the building against the repercussions of leaving elderly, sick and needy people without a home. While I believe that the vast majority of inspectors perform their duties with the utmost integrity and honesty, I also believe that the actions of some have created an atmosphere where the actions of all inspectors will be scrutinized ever more closely,” Lentol wrote.