Over the previous dozen yrs, Sanford Solny has constructed a New York serious estate empire, snatching up modest household structures throughout the metropolis that churn out hundreds of 1000’s of dollars in lease.
His portfolio would be enviable but for one thing — a great deal of it, prosecutors and property owners contend, was stolen. In criminal fees and lawsuits, they have accused him of fraud: presenting to help householders dealing with foreclosure by arranging to pay out off their home loans, though truly tricking them into signing in excess of their buildings at cut price-basement charges. In just about each individual case, the mortgage was by no means compensated, leaving the home-owner with no home but a pile of credit card debt.
The follow is recognised as deed theft, and as city and point out officials promised to crack down on it, they homed in on Mr. Solny. The Brooklyn district legal professional, whose office environment has billed him with taking the homes of seven households, identified as his actions “despicable.” In Queens, prosecutors accused Mr. Solny and his associates of cheating 10 men and women out of their houses. The court docket appointed a keep an eye on to scrutinize his transactions.
But an assessment by The New York Moments has located that not only is Mr. Solny continue to profiting from properties beneath dispute, town organizations are contributing to his earnings by subsidizing the hire at some of his houses.
His circumstance exemplifies the gradual and stumbling combat towards deed theft, which generally targets immigrants and Black and Latino householders. Even with repeated pledges from the New York Point out legal professional standard and legislature to curtail the fraud, only a small portion of hundreds of complaints are at any time prosecuted. Owners, stripped of their most considerable asset, are still left to interact in a lengthy and costly fight to try out to reclaim their houses in civil court docket.
A shut evaluate of Mr. Solny’s holdings and transactions — drawing on housing court circumstances, lawsuits, city house data and interviews — reveals a prolonged document of questionable dealings and a mostly ineffective govt response. About a lot more than a ten years, Mr. Solny and companies connected to him took possession of at least 140 properties, The Times discovered. The previous homeowners of 40 of all those buildings — which consist of a coveted brownstone in gentrifying Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, a three-story apartment making around Rockaway Beach front and a suburban Craftsman-style household with a garden in Rosedale, Queens — have claimed they had been victims of deed theft, civil and prison court information display.
Even although Mr. Solny was below the eye of the check, a company controlled by him compensated a Brooklyn woman $5,000 for a home really worth about 100 occasions that much and remaining her relatives with the personal debt, according to the woman and metropolis assets information.
By way of a world-wide-web of shell firms, Mr. Solny nonetheless owns 19 households whose owners he has been accused of defrauding, and he collects rent from tenants he set up in lots of of them, in accordance to court filings, metropolis data and interviews. As criminal rates from Mr. Solny have piled up, metropolis businesses have paid out the rent of tenants at some of those attributes by means of very affordable-housing vouchers, The Times discovered.
“How does the process operate for him and not for us?” mentioned Janet Bruce, a retired property wellbeing aide from Guyana who claimed in court filings that Mr. Solny walked into her residence in Flatbush, Brooklyn, in 2014 with a stack of paper and a guarantee to rescue her and her partner from foreclosure. He gave the few $14,000 but under no circumstances paid off their mortgage, she stated.
He walked out as the operator of a building now value about $900,000, stated Ms. Bruce, 69, who has sued Mr. Solny. The transaction is also portion of the felony circumstance in Brooklyn.
From July 2014 through February of this calendar year, there were a lot more than 3,350 complaints of deed theft in New York City, virtually fifty percent of which ended up in Brooklyn, in accordance to the metropolis Department of Finance. The Brooklyn district attorney’s office brought expenses in 27 instances of deed theft considering the fact that 2014, in accordance to a Moments overview.
“It just will make you speculate how seriously we, as a culture, and our prison justice procedure, take white-collar criminal offense that essentially victimizes men and women,” claimed Oda Friedheim, a supervising lawyer at the Legal Assist Society who deals with residence fraud.
A lawyer for Mr. Solny declined to reply certain concerns from The Times, citing the open prison situation in Brooklyn.
“The truth that these clients would reduce their homes experienced been a foregone conclusion long right before they ever achieved Mr. Solny,” the law firm, Michael Farkas, explained in a statement. “When they sought his support with managing that regrettable and sophisticated reality, these consumers executed files that clearly conveyed their attributes to Mr. Solny.”
Deed fraud grievances in New York Town have fallen from a peak of 665 in 2015 to 154 previous yr. But those figures mask what could be a looming surge now that protections versus foreclosure that have been place in put throughout the pandemic have expired.
“You have a pretty significant quantity of homeowners that are in distress, and actual estate in New York has by no means been additional valuable,” reported Ivy Perez, the senior plan and investigate manager for the Centre for NYC Neighborhoods, an economical-housing nonprofit. “That is a strong combination for scammers.”
‘We Missing Everything’
Deed theft requires diverse sorts, but Mr. Solny is accused of 1 of the most widespread.
The fraud preys on folks who are in danger of losing their properties, data that is easily obtainable in real estate databases. Some prospective buyers also recruit nearby residents to obtain men and women they know who are in monetary trouble.
House owners are explained to they qualify for a limited sale — a deal in which the loan provider settles for less than the quantity owed on the home loan. The homeowners, by now resigned to shedding their attributes to foreclosure and baffled by a mountain of paperwork, think the offer will at the very least relieve them of their debt and give them a little sum of hard cash.
In actuality, the documents they sign transfer possession of the creating while even now leaving the property owners dependable for the personal debt. The man or woman committing the fraud delivers in tenants and collects rent, sometimes for many years, until eventually banks or other loan providers eventually foreclose on the assets.
Ms. Bruce fell driving on her house loan payments in 2013, soon after her spouse, James, a prepare examiner for the Section of Buildings, had a stroke.
A close friend from church referred Ms. Bruce to Mr. Solny, who mentioned he could assist organize a small sale. Mr. Solny instructed her she would lose the household but the house loan would be compensated, and he would just take treatment of every thing as her law firm, she stated in her lawsuit.
Mr. Solny and his associates arrived late, Ms. Bruce said, and then rushed her and her spouse to indication paperwork in separate rooms. He paid them each and every $7,000, in accordance to the grievance.
No short-sale try was produced, she explained, but a deed transferring the residence to East 29th Road Realty Inc. was recorded with the city, documents show. Mr. Solny signed as the customer, and his daughter, Shandelle Solny, signed as a witness. For many years, because of assurances from Mr. Solny, Ms. Bruce did not understand that the growing debt would stay in her title, she mentioned. She owes approximately $350,000 — a personal debt she could pay, with dollars to spare, if she have been equipped to provide or refinance the home.
Mr. Solny installed tenants shortly soon after the few moved out and has gathered more than $200,000 from the developing, in accordance to Invoice Lienhard, a attorney for Ms. Bruce. Two present tenants verified to The Occasions that they paid hire to a company controlled by Mr. Solny.
“He collects rent until eventually the foreclosure is performed, and then he’s out — what does he treatment?” reported Toby Cohen, an additional attorney who has represented several folks suing Mr. Solny.
Prosecutors say they are hamstrung by the legislation: They will have to show there was felony intent in cases that are not as slam-dunk as those they like to convey to court docket. Many years can go by ahead of a property owner realizes what took place, and the transactions are complex. What just one individual claims as fraud can be defended as just a lopsided small business offer.
“Deed theft is notoriously hard to investigate and prosecute,” said Melinda Katz, the Queens district attorney. The sentiment was echoed by Eric Gonzalez, the Brooklyn district legal professional.
Civil lawsuits are commonly the only way a property owner can test to reclaim a title, and victims often are unable to find the money for a lawyer. The plaintiffs almost never get — attributes once owned by several of Mr. Cohen’s shoppers were being marketed at foreclosures auctions to other parties ahead of the cases could be settled.
Litigation is challenging by a website of shell firms controlled by Mr. Solny and customers of his relatives. Of the 140 transactions The Situations linked to Mr. Solny, none was personally deeded to him. Instead, he signed as an officer of a company entity that assumed possession.
“We misplaced anything,” Ms. Bruce mentioned, recalling a period of time when she slept on friends’ couches and remaining New York for less costly housing in Philadelphia. Her husband died in 2020. “Do you know how tough it is to be choosing up the parts when you are in your senior many years?”
No Warmth or Incredibly hot Water
House owners are not the only types affected. Tenants and metropolis organizations have complained of critical protection and well being dangers at structures owned by companies connected to Mr. Solny.
Of the 19 disputed homes people providers however owned as of June, 15 had open housing violations, which includes for heat and very hot-water failures, unsafe wiring and pest infestations.
“They’re not executing very little — by no means have heating, by no means take care of very little,” stated Sandy Triunfel, a residence attendant who in 2017 stopped spending lease on her condominium in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, in accordance to courtroom documents, simply because she said she did not get very hot water or fuel for months.
The proprietor, Blue Realty & Providers Team, a enterprise tied to Mr. Solny, evicted her the next calendar year. The previous property owner experienced claimed in civil court that the enterprise experienced tricked him into signing about the deed to the home.
At Ms. Bruce’s previous residence, city inspectors observed practically 4 dozen direct paint violations in February 2019, when a mother and her 8 small children have been dwelling there. After the tenants applied for emergency rental aid, the town compensated roughly $21,000 in back rent to Mr. Solny’s business. Two present-day tenants claimed the town was even now spending some of their lease by means of subsidies.
It was a person of 3 disputed homes where The Situations located the town had covered the hire for Mr. Solny’s tenants. The New York Town Housing Authority, which paid out subsidies at 1 of the qualities, explained it experienced due to the fact included Mr. Solny’s organization to a record of banned landlords.
Neha Sharma, a spokeswoman for the metropolis Department of Social Services, which administers the rent support plan at the other two structures, explained the agency’s precedence was to maintain housing balance for tenants.
A Buying Spree
Mr. Solny, 65, who is regarded as Sandy, has been on the city’s radar for a long time.
In 2012, he was suspended from practising regulation for pilfering $600,000 from his dying uncle, according to a disciplinary board conclusion. He paid again the dollars but remains suspended.
The upcoming year, Mr. Solny and his daughter went on a getting spree: at least 50 properties in Queens, Brooklyn and the Bronx, a lot of of which have been in or approaching foreclosures. On a solitary day in March 2013, they signed the deeds to a few residences in East New York, a predominantly Black neighborhood in Brooklyn, in accordance to town records.
Tenants and homeowners described him as cordial, with a tender voice and grandfatherly mien.
“He’s really slick,” reported Richard Critical, who sued a company managed by Mr. Solny in 2015 for claiming the title to his two-relatives home in East New York. The scenario is open.
In 2016, Mr. Solny and his associates ended up billed in Queens with crimes similar to the theft of 10 households. He pleaded guilty two yrs later to a lesser charge of legal possession of stolen house and was sentenced to up to 5 yrs of probation.
Mr. Solny paid a fantastic and returned hire he experienced gathered, and 5 deeds were being voided as a result of the offer. His daughter, Shandelle, 31, was billed with tax fraud and paid out restitution in a plea offer. Ms. Solny declined to comment past the statement issued by her father’s attorney.
In 2020, Brooklyn prosecutors billed Mr. Solny with crimes related to the theft of 8 attributes. Pursuing the indictment, Mr. Solny’s probation officer proposed that he be sentenced to prison for violating the conditions of his plea offer in Queens. A verdict has not yet been achieved in the Brooklyn situation.
The Queens deal did not bar Mr. Solny from getting extra real estate, but the courtroom appointed a monitor in 2018 to assessment his company bargains going forward and flag any suspicious transactions.
In a evaluation of house documents, The Occasions identified a questionable transaction carried out after Mr. Solny’s plea in Queens.
Elizabeth Lewis, 77, a retired financial institution worker, informed The Periods that in late 2019, Mr. Solny made available to set up a quick sale on a Brooklyn residence, a two-bedroom brick household in East Flatbush belonging to Ms. Lewis’s sister, who experienced a reverse mortgage and other credit card debt.
Ms. Lewis stated she signed paperwork on behalf of her sister, who died in 2020, to initiate a sale. The deed recorded the sale at $35,000, but Ms. Lewis mentioned she was paid $5,000 with the promise of extra when the home was marketed.
She signed about the deed to a enterprise controlled by Mr. Solny, but the financial debt was not paid out, according to house records and the Section of Housing and City Enhancement, which retains the bank loan.
Similar revenue clearly show the household is most likely worthy of much more than $500,000, but Ms. Lewis can no extended provide it for the reason that Mr. Solny’s firm is mentioned with the metropolis as the operator.
She has not heard from Mr. Solny in pretty much two a long time, she claimed.
Brian Sanvidge, who has overseen the evaluate of Mr. Solny’s transactions at Anchin, the checking company, said that he had seemed at extra than 240 properties related to Mr. Solny and had not caught the East Flatbush sale. He named it “concerning” and mentioned he would report it to the Queens district lawyer.
Very little Aid
General public efforts have been manufactured to counter residence fraud, but critics say the actions slide quick.
The point out legal professional general’s workplace introduced a marketing campaign to combat deed theft in 2020, funding free of charge lawful solutions and home finance loan aid in neighborhoods vulnerable to fraud. But aid for individuals who have previously shed their properties can be tricky to get: The business office is presently prosecuting just 3 deed theft cases.
A state law handed in 2019 provided a rule that lets prosecutors to file a movement to void a fraudulent home transfer in relationship with a responsible plea or verdict.
But the rule is narrowly outlined, limiting its use, and the procedure can nevertheless just take years, stated Rachel Geballe, a deputy director at Brooklyn Legal Products and services. Neither Queens nor Brooklyn prosecutors have utilised the system, while the offices explained they had employed other usually means to void fraudulent deeds.
For Ms. Bruce, 8 yrs have handed considering the fact that she signed her residence in excess of to Mr. Solny’s corporation. The Brooklyn prison scenario has been adjourned 13 moments due to the fact late 2020. Mr. Farkas explained in court in June that his consumer was contemplating a plea offer.
“I’m hoping some type of justice will arrive from this,” Ms. Bruce explained. “I say, ‘Lord, when is this likely to be over?’”
Susan Beachy contributed analysis.