Croman to Be Sentenced Sept. 19

Steven Croman, whose wholesale harassment of tenants in the more than 180 buildings he owns made him the iconic predatory landlord, will be sentenced Sept. 19 on fraud charges.

Croman pleaded guilty June 6 to three felonies, including grand larceny and tax fraud, for directing a scheme to get more than $45 million in refinancing loans by giving banks inflated rent rolls for his buildings—claiming that he had forced out more rent-stabilized tenants than he actually had. If the judge accepts the terms of his plea bargain with state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, he will serve one year in Rikers Island and pay a $5 million penalty.

The Attorney General’s office called the deal “a significant precedent in the effort to combat landlords who base their business model on the displacement of rent-stabilized tenants.” Its civil suit against Croman, alleging that he harassed tenants with practices like badgering them to take buyouts, cutting off heat and cooking gas, and renovating vacant units in ways that led to chunks of plaster falling out of tenants’ ceilings, is still pending.

Schneiderman said one reason he went after Croman for mortgage fraud was because it was next to impossible to convict him for harassment. The state’s current law against harassing rent-regulated tenants requires prosecutors to prove that a tenant has been physically injured, and that the landlord caused the injury either deliberately or through criminal recklessness.

“While we celebrate today’s victory, it is important to note that current laws prevent the Attorney General and local district attorneys from bringing the full force of criminal prosecution against unscrupulous landlords like Croman,” State Sen. Liz Krueger (D-Manhattan) said in a statement June 6. “As it stands now, the bar for proving criminal harassment of tenants is so high that no one has ever been successfully prosecuted.”

The Tenant Protection Act, introduced in late May by Schneiderman, Krueger and Assemblymember Joseph Lentol (D-Brooklyn), defines harassment as a “systematic ongoing course of conduct” to drive tenants out by endangering or disturbing them. They said this would allow landlords to be prosecuted for Croman-style tactics such as “turning off heat and hot water, exposing young children to lead dust, and making rent-stabilized buildings deliberately uninhabitable for current tenants and their families.”