My Elderly Mom Was Forced to Spend Thousands to Fight a Fake Eviction Notice
The fake eviction notice was just the beginning. Bullying, slander, threats and harassment are daily occurrences for elderly residents of this building.
As someone with a strong support network, it’s difficult to acknowledge, much less comprehend, the ripple of pain a fake eviction notice can have on a family. But I feel it acutely. For several years, my mother, a Holocaust survivor in her 80s, has been the target of an aggressive group bullying campaign by the shady board and management company of her Brooklyn co-op building.
What began as residential neglect snowballed into all-out abuse. My mother has even been served with a retaliatory Notice to Cure (the co-op version of an eviction notice). And while it was fake and without merit, it shook her to the core—and cost her thousands of dollars in legal fees.
Sadly, older Americans are often the target of elder financial abuse and online scams. “You see elderly people treated horribly and criminally, including [through] phone scams, fraud, banking scams and more,” says lawyer Sabrina Shaheen Cronin, founder and managing partner of the Cronin Law Firm. Elderly individuals are “easily targeted, and they’re often isolated,” she says. “They’re also more susceptible to people pretending to be nice. There is a little bit more vulnerability with the aged population.”
That’s certainly the case in my mother’s building, where elderly residents are the primary targets of harassment.
Home (seemingly) sweet home
When my mother was widowed some years back, she decided to downsize. After an extensive search, she chose a lovely, outwardly well-kept building on a tree-lined avenue in Brooklyn. The fact that it was a co-op was a nice perk: In buying it, she became a joint owner of the building through a corporation owned by all shareholders (aka the tenants).
Along with its management company, a co-op is governed by a board of directors responsible for running the building and corporation within the legal parameters—it’s all pretty cut and dry, laid out in simple terms on the New York State attorney general’s website. It’s estimated that nearly 75% of the apartment market in New York City is co-ops. Most are run legally and, aside from a few misunderstandings, to the benefit of residents and shareholders.
That’s not the case in my mother’s building.
When my mother purchased her co-op, she had no idea that the management company at the time was planning to purchase a block of seven units drastically below market value and in violation of multiple building and state laws. The scheme was so egregious that the attorney general for the state of New York sued the former building manager and his partner. (Though the attorney general settled the case, many shareholders believe stronger protective guidelines should have been built into the settlement.)
That’s when a rogue group of shareholders positioned themselves as the board of directors while effectively seizing control of the corporation. This group of bad actors, along with their cronies and family members, use the building and corporation in murky ways, seemingly for their own benefit and frequently to the detriment of shareholders. In fact, when the management company was replaced after the attorney general’s lawsuit, an individual without a license or past experience—who acts as an enforcer of sorts—ended up in charge.
It should come as no surprise, then, that quality of life in the building has been drastically deteriorating ever since. As has the building itself. This crew is destroying the co-op with outright neglect.
Take, for example, the recent New York Department of Buildings’s citation for a “failure to maintain” and the resulting emergency order it issued to repair dangerous conditions. Or consider a previous ruling by a New York State Supreme Court judge, who found that the board and management company violated the Warranty of Habitability. In other words, my mom’s building wasn’t kept in a habitable condition.
And then there are the dangerous and illegal construction schemes. One plan relied on multiple permits intentionally secured with false information. Another project illegally subdivided an apartment on the ground floor, then broke down part of a supporting wall—all without provisions for fire safety or gas fumes.
Of course, my mother and other shareholders spoke up against these and multiple other quality-of-life issues. And they’ve been aggressively harassed, stalked, slandered, threatened with eviction and targeted with reputational harm, my family most of all.
Fake eviction scams differ between rental apartments and co-ops. In a rental, an unscrupulous landlord might want to scare residents in the hopes of replacing them with higher-paying tenants. In a co-op building, a sketchy board or fishy management company might use a fake eviction notice, or Notice to Cure, to scare a shareholder into silence.
Maybe they’re looking to intimidate tenants into dropping a lawsuit (a tactic employed by the group in my mother’s building). Or maybe they simply want to wear down tenants until they sell their units under market value. (My mom faced countless attempts to get her to sell her unit for dirt cheap.) These fake threats of eviction are also powerful tools for keeping other shareholders silent—no one wants to be targeted next. But not everyone responds to threats by backing down.
National Certified Property Appraiser Scott Modlin, whose grandfather built the building my mother lives in, sees through some of the lies and fear tactics. When he spoke with board members, they attempted to downplay the neglect in the building. Several of them told him that the extensive fines and violations received for illegal construction, neglect and dangerous conditions were fraudulent. “They say everything is a fraud, but that’s not possible,” Modlin says. “When you get a ticket for parking at a bus stop, you deserved that ticket.”
By keeping the building dark, dirty and unsafe, the board and management company create a situation in which residents—especially the elderly and vulnerable—feel frightened and helpless. That makes it easier for these bad neighbors to try to force people to sell their units at a great financial loss. It also keeps many older residents in the building from being able to peacefully age in place.
The quality-of-life violations in the building are only growing. The facade is cracked and damaged, the elevator lurches and most of the building’s public and external areas are kept pitch-dark at night. The windows in the ground-level lobby were intentionally kept open 24/7 for years—until the building was recently robbed. Many residents are left without heat during the winter, with management suggesting they buy space heaters (frowned upon in New York, a city that’s seen them cause deadly building fires) or install exterior heating units (which further damage the structure).
“They’re not taking care of the building,” Modlin says. “It doesn’t happen overnight; it happens after neglect.”
It’s worse than neglect at this point. Those behind the building’s decline engage in murky cash-only apartment sales they don’t register on government sites or with shareholders. They charge only some shareholders maintenance fees and have admitted to making deals with others. The members of this crew have shady backgrounds that don’t inspire trust: One was listed third on New York City’s annual worst-landlord list, one pled guilty to inciting a crowd, one uses foreclosure as a business model and yet another engages in repeat corporate voter fraud.
And then there’s the matter of blocking residents from using public areas of the building they co-own, including the storage area. Members of this group called the police on an elderly resident attempting to access his own property in the storage room. The so-called super takes up multiple spots in the garage without paying and seems to be operating a junking business or chop shop.
Equally horrifying are the threats of retaliation. The first day the building manager visited the residence, my sister and I asked about the dangerous conditions. The response: “You’re going to get hurt if you continue.”
By 2019, things at my mother’s apartment had gotten even worse. And that September, the abuse kicked up a notch.
Board election fraud is standard in my mom’s building, with two board members frequently swapping the position of board president without holding an election or notifying shareholders. At the annual shareholders meeting that fall, the sole candidate declared his platform to be eviction for anyone reporting issues in the building. He then installed himself as board president, though the legal documentation showed someone else in the role. Neither would-be presidents were elected by shareholders.
From that time on, anyone who spoke up for themselves (as my family does) had a bull’s-eye on their back. In what one neighbor later called “a witch hunt,” my mother and family were singled out for aggression and abuse during that meeting.
But my mom wasn’t about to sit back and take the abuse. She was already dealing with a drastically deteriorating apartment and had spent years requesting repairs to the leaks in the walls and ceiling, issues that caused serious damage and dangerous mold and flooding conditions. Finally, in December 2019, we went to the New York City Housing Court to sue for repairs. We won.
Predictably, it wasn’t smooth sailing from there. The board and management only made partial repairs to the interior of my mom’s unit. They didn’t handle any of the court-ordered repairs to fix the source of the leaks, though board members claimed on the certification that all repairs were complete. During that time, the so-called board president repeatedly gained access to my mother’s apartment in what a housing court attorney later referred to as “criminal trespass.”
He took photos of her and her home without permission. He said he had videos of our family. During one threat-filled rant he said he’d raise the maintenance fee to whatever he wanted: “$2,000, $3,000, $5,000.” He said he’d blame it on her.
Yet somehow it got worse.
The fake eviction notice
Right before the Christmas and Hanukkah weekend, with repairs a few days underway, my mother received a false and retaliatory Notice to Cure—a fake eviction notice. The document was filled with slander, lies and ludicrous claims. My elderly mother was forced to spend thousands on an attorney in what she hoped would shut down this aggression once and for all. Sadly, it did not.
She received threatening notes under her door. She couldn’t gain access to the garage, found dog excrement on her windshield and had her tires slashed. Several large men in the group blocked her entrance to the building. My mother still can’t do her laundry peacefully without being stalked.
The individuals taking part in this aggression campaign tried to force others to shun her and us. The person claiming to be board president taunted, “You’re the most hated person in the building.”
Years of group harassment
While we have many friends in my mom’s building, it was extremely disconcerting to be on the receiving end of that level of abuse. It still is.
See, while residents of the building deal with constant abuse, they’re not the only ones. Their families are also targets.
Board members, the management company and its employees, as well as their family members and associates, have stalked and threatened both my mother and myself for years. After my mother returned from a trip, the father of a board member blocked elevator access and harassed my sister and mother for a half hour, snarling that he wanted my mom out of the building and forcing her to lug her suitcase up several flights of stairs.
Guests, too, are fair game for harassment. When a chaplain—wearing a clearly identifiable uniform shirt and hat—and therapy dog came to visit my mother, the building’s super physically attempted to block the entrance. He then closely followed the chaplain up the stairs, bellowing threats.
Numerous law enforcement agencies have advised us to file police reports and document the years of abuse. I’ve kept a harassment diary. And at certain points, I wore a body camera because the aggression was so out of control and I couldn’t always turn on my phone fast enough.
Perhaps most astonishing is this: All these events are just a tiny fraction of the harassment residents have faced for years.
On Sept. 8, 2022, after three years without a legally required shareholders meeting, the group reconvened. Board members became brazen, declaring their intention to keep violating the law and inviting the attorney general to sue them.
The bold statement preceded threats of yet another fake eviction notice. Board members publicly shared my mother’s apartment number while slandering our family and doxxing us, sharing our private information and correspondence publicly.
In a continued gaslighting campaign, these people claim to want peace in the building but run it like a war zone.
The slow pursuit of justice
The harassment continues, but so does our fight for justice as more shareholders recognize the individual and corporate abuse. At this point, more city and state agencies than I can list here are aware of or are investigating what’s going on in my mother’s building. But it’s an excruciatingly slow process to achieve justice, and we’ve been targeted and bullied throughout.
Thankfully, we have so many people on our side, advising us and bolstering us through even the worst moments.
Help for those facing residential harassment
As the abuse raged on, I turned to a friend for advice on how to deal with the constant aggression. Rob DuBois is a retired Navy SEAL turned personal development pro and author of Powerful Peace. He says the first thing you have to do is ask yourself, “Is today survivable? Can I live through the next 10 breaths?”
He suggests avoiding decision-making until you can say, “I’m OK right now.” Only then should you take action.
When people ask me what to do when targeted by bullies, I advise trying to help others, which results in feeling empowered rather than victimized. With that in mind, my sister and I co-founded a nonprofit organization that works with vulnerable individuals, including caregivers, Holocaust survivors and victims of residential harassment. I also became a chaplain earlier this year in the hope of helping others through life’s difficult moments. “We’re precious human beings. We have such worth,” DuBois says. “That’s exactly why we become activists or champions or rescuers—because of what other people do to us.”
I hope reading my mother’s story will help you pursue justice if you feel victimized by residential harassment and fake eviction notices or bullying in your home. If you’re wondering how to identify a scammer, trust your gut. “If you have the instinct this is happening, usually it is,” says Shaheen Cronin. “If you think you’re being harassed, usually you are. It goes beyond paranoia.”
As for my mother’s co-op, Modlin says “there has to be a reset button to hit on this building.”
I couldn’t agree more.
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- Sabrina Shaheen Cronin, founder and managing partner of The Cronin Law Firm
- Scott Modlin, National Certified Property Appraiser
- Rob DuBois, personal development pro at Impact Actual and author of Powerful Peace
- New York State Attorney General: “Attorney General James Announces Lawsuit Against Managing Agent for Allegedly Defrauding Elderly Residents of Co-op”
- New York State Attorney General: “Understanding and Dealing with a Co-Op Board of Directors”
- Case Text: “People vs. Prottas”