East Village Tenants Protest Lead Poisoning

Tenants dressed in hazmat suits protested at the offices of Raphael Toledano and his Brookhill Properties property-management firm April 12 to express concerns about unsafe lead levels in their East Village and Chelsea buildings. 

Participants included members of the Toledano Tenant Coalition, which represents residents in over 20 of the landlord’s buildings, and the Cooper Square Committee, an affordable-housing advocacy group from the neighborhood. They hoped to present Toledano with a list of demands, but security blocked them from entering the Midtown Manhattan, while Toledano stayed locked in his seventh-floor office. 

Toledano, 25, grew up in a real-estate family in New Jersey and brags about being “the youngest landlord in New York City to have a portfolio of his size.” Last fall, he spent $97 million to buy 16 East Village buildings. He says Donald Trump is his “business inspiration” and the political figure he most admires. He says he’s passionate about “bringing the highest-quality, high-end real estate to New York tenants.”

In his East Village buildings, that has meant racing to convert vacant rent-stabilized apartments into luxury units, using unsafe demolition practices that have generated dangerously high levels of lead dust, according to reports by the city Department of Health. Many residents have complained of respiratory problems. Two of the buildings found to have elevated lead levels are home to children under 6 years old, who are most at risk of serious physical and developmental disabilities from lead poisoning.

Tenants believe that Toledano is deliberately generating dangerous levels of lead dust in an attempt to force them out. Holly Slayton, a real-estate agent and hat-shop owner who has lived in her apartment at 514 East 12th St. for 21 years, describes dust “coming through the floorboards and in the walls.” When she went to the doctor for lead-induced sinus issues, migraines, and chest pains, he encouraged her to wear a dust mask in her home. Her daughter is also recovering from an upper respiratory infection. 

Tenants in several East Village buildings have complained that Toledano has used illegal tactics to push them out. At 444 East 13th St., they took him to court for harassment, alleging that he filed trumped-up notices to vacate and holdover lawsuits against them and turning off heat and water during winter. Management agents would also call tenants throughout the night and stalk them around their buildings, pressuring them to accept buyout deals. When tenants asked Toledano to turn their gas and heat back on, he sent them fruit baskets instead.

Toledano was convicted of aggravated assault in 2012, when he beat up two teenage boys in Lakewood, New Jersey, and broke one’s jaw. Police reports obtained by the Villager said he hit them with a weapon that was either a crowbar, a branch, or “a metal or wood object approximately two and a half feet long.” He was sentenced to two years’ probation.

He was also sued by his uncle Aaron Jungreis, another luxury developer, who alleged that Toledano cut him out of the 16-building East Village deal.

Toledano has given residents in Slayton’s East 12th Street building offers ranging from $15,000 and $130,000 to get out, she says, money that would be “gone in no time” once they had to start paying market-rate rents. Only seven of the 20 apartments are still occupied. 

She added that tenants in different buildings had been offered different buyout deals, but that some had moved out without being offered anything, and that Toledano lied to other tenants, offering buyout deals and then not paying them.

Some residents were wary about complaining and protesting openly because they are holding out for a better buyout deal, said a tenant who wishes to remain anonymous.