Suit Alleges that Zara Realty targeted tenants in at least 38 rent-stabilized buildings by charging excessive fees, coercing them into signing improper leases, illegally raising rents, and denying tenant rights
NEW YORK – Attorney General Letitia James and Governor Andrew M. Cuomo today announced a lawsuit against Zara Realty Holding Corp., its principals, and affiliated entities for repeatedly violating rent stabilization laws and harassing tenants at their Queens apartment buildings. The defendants, who own and manage at least 2,500 rent-stabilized apartments in 38 buildings in and around Jamaica, Queens, have taken advantage of their tenants, who are largely immigrant middle- and low-income families, by charging them illegal fees and rents, and requiring that they sign illegal leases. The Tenant Protection Unit of New York State Homes and Community Renewal (HCR) uncovered these practices over the course of a two-year investigation and partnered with the Attorney General to file the suit.
“For years, Zara Realty has engaged in an egregious pattern of tenant harassment and exploitation,” said Attorney General Letitia James. “Evading our rent regulation laws and forcing low-income tenants to pay exorbitant fees for fake services is deception of the worst kind. This is a notice to all unscrupulous landlords who seek to hurt New Yorkers, we will not tolerate this behavior.”
“Any landlord that harasses or cheats tenants will be punished to the fullest extent of the law – period,” said Governor Andrew M. Cuomo. “New York State has zero tolerance for the unscrupulous behavior described in these allegations and our Tenant Protection Unit will continue to root out bad actors who take advantage of tenants and deliberately flout New York’s stringent rent regulation laws.”
“With today’s action, and through all of the work of the Governor’s Tenant Protection Unit, New York State is sending a strong message to the landlord community: We are watching, and if you mistreat your tenants, we are coming for you,” said New York State Homes and Community Renewal Commissioner RuthAnne Visnauskas.
The complaint, filed today in New York Supreme Court, alleges that Zara Realty has spent years evading and circumventing rent stabilization laws in order to scam tenants out of thousands upon thousands of dollars. Zara Realty often illegally demands and charges new tenants illegal key money, room reservation fees, advanced rent, and excessive security deposits. Tenants who continue to reside in Zara Realty buildings are often illegally charged late fees and fees for services to which they are entitled to for free such as regular apartment maintenance.
Zara Realty regularly charges tenants moving into its buildings and tenants moving apartments within the same building a broker’s fee under the name “Jasmine Homes, LLC,” a company controlled by the Subraj family, though the Rent Stabilization Code prohibits landlord from collecting a broker’s fee. In addition, Zara Realty also charges tenants security deposits that equal three- to four-times the monthly rent, though the Rent Stabilization Code allows a landlord to collect only one month’s rent as security.
The complaint also alleges that when Zara Realty takes over a new building, it changes the building’s front door lock and requires that tenants pay fees of up to $200 per key for the new lock. It also requires that tenants submit to background checks or sign new leases if they want a key. The investigation found that some tenants paid more than $11,000 simply to move into their rent-stabilized apartment.
In the filing, the Attorney General seeks an injunction against Zara Realty on behalf of HCR, and it additionally seeks disgorgement, restitution, and other equitable relief under the New York Executive Law.
The Attorney General’s Office and the Tenant Protection Unit and would like to thank Catholic Migration Services, Woodside on the Move, Chhaya CDC, Asian Americans for Equality, Legal Services NYC, the Legal Aid Society, New York Legal Assistance Group, the Jewish Association Serving the Aging, and the Urban Justice Center for their critical cooperation in this case.
They would also like to thank TPU’s Senior Attorneys Shirali Shah, Monique Thomas and Stephanie Cunningham, as well as Assistant Counsel Karis Rasmussen, Acting Legal Director Argyro Boyle, and Acting Deputy Commissioner/Bureau Chief Gregory C. Fewer for their hard work and dedication in bringing this case to fruition.
The matter is being handled for the Attorney General’s Real Estate Finance Bureau by Senior Enforcement Counsel Rachel Hannaford and Bureau Chief Brent Meltzer. This matter is being handled for the Attorney General’s Bureau of Consumer Frauds and Protection by Assistant Attorney General Elena González under the supervision of Jane M. Azia. Both Bureaus are overseen by First Deputy Attorney General Jennifer Levy.
“I commend Attorney General Letitia James for fighting for the residents of Queens,” said Assemblyman Mike Miller. “Letitia has been fighting for tenants’ rights and going after landlords when she was our city’s Public Advocate. Now as Attorney General, she continues the fight for tenants and is now able to prosecute these landlords like Zara Realty, who have been harassing their tenants. I am confident that justice will be served.”
“I am pleased that the New York State Attorney General is taking action against predatory landlords in Queens,” said Assemblywoman Alicia Hyndman. “I know firsthand the deceitful tactics that Zara Realty can take against tenants because it happened to me as a young single mother in the early 2000s, when I rented a studio apartment from them. While we must remember that they are alleged to have harassed and extracted additional fees from tenants, I can’t help but wonder if what happened to me happened to others at the hands of Zara Realty.”
“Tenant harassment is illegal, and rarely do prosecutors act to protect tenants — but not today. Attorney General Letitia James is standing up for tenants in my district who for years have suffered harassment and abuse from a landlord notorious for its aggressive mistreatment of working people,” said Council Member Rory Lancman. “This is why we elect prosecutors — to hold the powerful accountable for their exploitation of the powerless. This is why we elected Letitia James to be our attorney general.”
“Predatory practices in the real estate industry, especially those that target the most vulnerable populations and threaten their housing security, cannot be tolerated,” said State Senator Leroy Comrie. “Every New York renter deserves fairness and respect from their landlord, and no one deserves to be taken advantage of by unscrupulous actors. I commend Attorney General James, the Governor’s Office and coalition of legal organizations and advocacy groups for their work to document, investigate and seek justice for aggrieved tenants in our community.”
“This case brought against Zara Realty by Attorney General James and the Tenant Protection Unit represents a victory long in the making, and an important step towards housing justice,” said Rima Begum, Tenant Organizer, Chhaya CDC. “It represents a victory for all the tenants who live in Zara buildings, who endure atrocious conditions and harassment from their landlord. Many of our tenant leaders fight fearlessly against displacement every day and have waited a long time for Zara Realty to face justice. This is also a victory for tenants everywhere who continue to live in fear and serves as a reminder to unscrupulous landlords and real estate speculators that the tenant movement is growing and change is coming.”
“I have been organizing Zara Realty’s tenants since 2012. Since then, I have seen many tenants taken to court with seemingly baseless cases as a form of harassment,” said Constantino Tejeda, Lead Organizer at Woodside On the Move. “I have also seen many tenants represented pro se or by other legal entities take Zara to court for their wrongdoing. Unfortunately, tenants have savored just some small victories. Tenants gave up on their fight because Zara appears to be above the law and impossible to stop. Today is a historic day for us because for the first time, Attorney General James and the Tenant Protection Unit are suing Zara Realty for all their current and past atrocities they have committed against tenants.”
“Zara Realty has preyed on vulnerable Queens tenants through deceptive and dishonest practices for years, said Sateesh Nori, Attorney in Charge of the Queens Neighborhood Office of the Legal Aid Society. Today, we can shine a light of truth and accountability to bring justice for the hundreds of tenants who are Zara’s victims.”
“This is welcome news for the many seniors who have been struggling for years against Zara’s unscrupulous practices, threatened with loss of their apartments,” said Donna Dougherty, Attorney-in-Charge JASA/Legal Services for the Elderly in Queens. “This case marks a defining moment where all Zara tenants will finally have their voices heard and their rights protected.”
“We applaud Attorney General James and Governor Cuomo for taking this powerful and essential step toward reining in Zara Realty who for too long has terrorized tenants and flaunted rent stabilization laws,” said Edward Josephson, Director of Litigation at Legal Services NYC. “As a legal service provider who is also currently pursuing litigation against Zara Realty, we have seen firsthand Zara’s attempts at intimidating and harassing tenants through frivolous eviction proceedings, unlawful fees and rent increases, and deceptive business practices. Enough is enough. We are proud to have collaborated on this case and will continue to fight for justice for these tenants.”
“It is powerful to know that New York State has the backs of Zara tenants and tenants across the City who are raising their voices against displacement,” said Michael Leonard, Senior Staff Attorney at the Urban Justice Center. “Today we are saying ‘enough is enough’ to deceptive and predatory practices.”