About the past dozen yrs, Sanford Solny has constructed a New York actual estate empire, snatching up compact household structures throughout the city that churn out hundreds of thousands of dollars in rent.
His portfolio would be enviable but for one particular detail — a great deal of it, prosecutors and home owners contend, was stolen. In criminal rates and lawsuits, they have accused him of fraud: featuring to assistance home owners experiencing foreclosure by arranging to pay off their home loans, while truly tricking them into signing around their structures at discount-basement price ranges. In just about just about every circumstance, the mortgage was under no circumstances compensated, leaving the home-owner with no house but a pile of debt.
The exercise is recognized as deed theft, and as metropolis and point out officials promised to crack down on it, they homed in on Mr. Solny. The Brooklyn district attorney, whose business has billed him with taking the properties of seven family members, known as his conduct “despicable.” In Queens, prosecutors accused Mr. Solny and his associates of cheating 10 individuals out of their houses. The courtroom appointed a check to scrutinize his transactions.
But an examination by The New York Moments has found that not only is Mr. Solny nonetheless profiting from structures less than dispute, town organizations are contributing to his earnings by subsidizing the rent at some of his properties.
His situation exemplifies the gradual and stumbling combat from deed theft, which generally targets immigrants and Black and Latino home owners. In spite of repeated pledges from the New York Point out attorney common and legislature to curtail the fraud, only a tiny portion of hundreds of problems are at any time prosecuted. House owners, stripped of their most considerable asset, are still left to have interaction in a very long and costly fight to consider to reclaim their attributes in civil court.
A near evaluate of Mr. Solny’s holdings and transactions — drawing on housing court docket instances, lawsuits, metropolis residence information and interviews — reveals a long file of questionable dealings and a mostly ineffective authorities reaction. Above much more than a decade, Mr. Solny and companies joined to him took possession of at least 140 attributes, The Periods found. The former entrepreneurs of 40 of all those buildings — which contain a coveted brownstone in gentrifying Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, a a few-story apartment making close to Rockaway Beach and a suburban Craftsman-design dwelling with a garden in Rosedale, Queens — have claimed they have been victims of deed theft, civil and criminal court documents demonstrate.
Even even though Mr. Solny was under the eye of the watch, a organization controlled by him compensated a Brooklyn female $5,000 for a house worth about 100 periods that significantly and still left her family members with the debt, in accordance to the lady and metropolis residence data.
Via a web of shell companies, Mr. Solny nonetheless owns 19 residences whose homeowners he has been accused of defrauding, and he collects lease from tenants he mounted in numerous of them, according to court docket filings, city data and interviews. As legal prices against Mr. Solny have piled up, metropolis companies have compensated the lease of tenants at some of those homes by means of cost-effective-housing vouchers, The Times identified.
“How does the program operate for him and not for us?” reported Janet Bruce, a retired house well being aide from Guyana who said in courtroom filings that Mr. Solny walked into her home in Flatbush, Brooklyn, in 2014 with a stack of paper and a guarantee to rescue her and her partner from foreclosures. He gave the couple $14,000 but hardly ever paid out off their mortgage loan, she claimed.
He walked out as the owner of a making now worth about $900,000, stated Ms. Bruce, 69, who has sued Mr. Solny. The transaction is also aspect of the prison situation in Brooklyn.
From July 2014 via February of this 12 months, there ended up additional than 3,350 problems of deed theft in New York Town, just about half of which had been in Brooklyn, according to the metropolis Division of Finance. The Brooklyn district attorney’s business brought fees in 27 conditions of deed theft considering the fact that 2014, in accordance to a Instances review.
“It just makes you ponder how seriously we, as a modern society, and our legal justice procedure, choose white-collar criminal offense that basically victimizes people,” said Oda Friedheim, a supervising law firm at the Legal Assist Modern society who specials with house fraud.
A law firm for Mr. Solny declined to solution distinct inquiries from The Periods, citing the open up felony situation in Brooklyn.
“The fact that these purchasers would eliminate their residences had been a foregone conclusion extended prior to they ever satisfied Mr. Solny,” the law firm, Michael Farkas, said in a assertion. “When they sought his assistance with handling that regrettable and complex truth, these clientele executed documents that clearly conveyed their attributes to Mr. Solny.”
Deed fraud problems in New York City have fallen from a peak of 665 in 2015 to 154 previous 12 months. But all those quantities mask what could be a looming surge now that protections from foreclosure that had been set in place in the course of the pandemic have expired.
“You have a incredibly higher variety of homeowners that are in distress, and serious estate in New York has by no means been additional precious,” stated Ivy Perez, the senior coverage and investigation supervisor for the Center for NYC Neighborhoods, an cost-effective-housing nonprofit. “That is a potent combination for scammers.”
‘We Shed Everything’
Deed theft will take different types, but Mr. Solny is accused of a person of the most frequent.
The fraud preys on men and women who are in risk of dropping their properties, details that is effortlessly available in actual estate databases. Some buyers also recruit regional citizens to uncover folks they know who are in financial difficulty.
Owners are advised they qualify for a limited sale — a deal in which the loan company settles for considerably less than the amount of money owed on the property finance loan. The owners, previously resigned to dropping their attributes to foreclosures and confused by a mountain of paperwork, think the deal will at least reduce them of their credit card debt and give them a modest quantity of dollars.
In reality, the documents they sign transfer ownership of the making when nonetheless leaving the homeowners accountable for the credit card debt. The person committing the fraud brings in tenants and collects hire, at times for several years, until eventually banking institutions or other loan providers at last foreclose on the home.
Ms. Bruce fell driving on her mortgage loan payments in 2013, immediately after her partner, James, a program examiner for the Division of Properties, experienced a stroke.
A good friend from church referred Ms. Bruce to Mr. Solny, who mentioned he could aid set up a limited sale. Mr. Solny informed her she would lose the household but the home loan would be paid out, and he would just take care of everything as her law firm, she said in her lawsuit.
Mr. Solny and his associates arrived late, Ms. Bruce explained, and then rushed her and her partner to sign paperwork in separate rooms. He paid out them each and every $7,000, according to the complaint.
No quick-sale try was produced, she said, but a deed transferring the home to East 29th Street Realty Inc. was recorded with the city, data demonstrate. Mr. Solny signed as the consumer, and his daughter, Shandelle Solny, signed as a witness. For years, for the reason that of assurances from Mr. Solny, Ms. Bruce did not comprehend that the rising credit card debt would keep on being in her title, she mentioned. She owes about $350,000 — a debt she could shell out, with dollars to spare, if she were equipped to sell or refinance the household.
Mr. Solny mounted tenants soon just after the pair moved out and has gathered much more than $200,000 from the building, in accordance to Monthly bill Lienhard, a attorney for Ms. Bruce. Two existing tenants confirmed to The Moments that they compensated hire to a enterprise managed by Mr. Solny.
“He collects rent right up until the foreclosure is carried out, and then he’s out — what does he treatment?” explained Toby Cohen, a further attorney who has represented several people today suing Mr. Solny.
Prosecutors say they are hamstrung by the law: They ought to display there was criminal intent in conditions that are not as slam-dunk as those they choose to carry to court. Decades can go by prior to a home owner realizes what transpired, and the transactions are intricate. What a single individual promises as fraud can be defended as just a lopsided enterprise deal.
“Deed theft is notoriously difficult to investigate and prosecute,” claimed Melinda Katz, the Queens district attorney. The sentiment was echoed by Eric Gonzalez, the Brooklyn district lawyer.
Civil lawsuits are usually the only way a home owner can attempt to reclaim a title, and victims often can not afford to pay for a law firm. The plaintiffs almost never get — attributes the moment owned by numerous of Mr. Cohen’s customers had been bought at foreclosure auctions to other functions just before the cases could be settled.
Litigation is complex by a internet of shell firms controlled by Mr. Solny and members of his family. Of the 140 transactions The Moments connected to Mr. Solny, none was personally deeded to him. Rather, he signed as an officer of a corporate entity that assumed ownership.
“We shed every thing,” Ms. Bruce mentioned, recalling a interval when she slept on friends’ couches and still left New York for less costly housing in Philadelphia. Her partner died in 2020. “Do you know how tough it is to be buying up the parts when you’re in your senior a long time?”
No Heat or Incredibly hot Drinking water
House owners are not the only types influenced. Tenants and metropolis agencies have complained of major safety and overall health hazards at structures owned by corporations linked to Mr. Solny.
Of the 19 disputed houses individuals providers nonetheless owned as of June, 15 experienced open housing violations, like for heat and very hot-water failures, unsafe wiring and pest infestations.
“They’re not carrying out almost nothing — under no circumstances have heating, by no means resolve absolutely nothing,” stated Sandy Triunfel, a dwelling attendant who in 2017 stopped paying out rent on her condominium in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, in accordance to court docket data, mainly because she stated she did not obtain warm h2o or fuel for months.
The operator, Blue Realty & Companies Team, a organization tied to Mr. Solny, evicted her the future 12 months. The preceding property owner had claimed in civil court that the organization experienced tricked him into signing about the deed to the home.
At Ms. Bruce’s previous house, town inspectors observed just about four dozen lead paint violations in February 2019, when a mother and her eight youngsters were dwelling there. After the tenants utilized for emergency rental help, the city paid out roughly $21,000 in back again rent to Mr. Solny’s corporation. Two current tenants mentioned the metropolis was nonetheless paying out some of their lease by means of subsidies.
It was 1 of a few disputed qualities exactly where The Moments located the city experienced included the hire for Mr. Solny’s tenants. The New York Town Housing Authority, which paid subsidies at a person of the qualities, reported it experienced considering the fact that additional Mr. Solny’s corporation to a list of banned landlords.
Neha Sharma, a spokeswoman for the town Division of Social Expert services, which administers the lease aid method at the other two structures, claimed the agency’s precedence was to protect housing steadiness for tenants.
A Getting Spree
Mr. Solny, 65, who is regarded as Sandy, has been on the city’s radar for years.
In 2012, he was suspended from practicing legislation for pilfering $600,000 from his dying uncle, according to a disciplinary board conclusion. He compensated back again the income but stays suspended.
The future yr, Mr. Solny and his daughter went on a purchasing spree: at minimum 50 residences in Queens, Brooklyn and the Bronx, numerous of which were being in or approaching foreclosure. On a solitary day in March 2013, they signed the deeds to a few households in East New York, a predominantly Black neighborhood in Brooklyn, according to city data.
Tenants and house owners explained him as cordial, with a soft voice and grandfatherly mien.
“He’s really slick,” explained Richard Serious, who sued a business managed by Mr. Solny in 2015 for saying the title to his two-family dwelling in East New York. The case is open.
In 2016, Mr. Solny and his associates were billed in Queens with crimes associated to the theft of 10 homes. He pleaded responsible two a long time afterwards to a lesser charge of legal possession of stolen house and was sentenced to up to 5 decades of probation.
Mr. Solny compensated a good and returned rent he had collected, and five deeds were being voided as a end result of the deal. His daughter, Shandelle, 31, was billed with tax fraud and compensated restitution in a plea offer. Ms. Solny declined to remark beyond the statement issued by her father’s law firm.
In 2020, Brooklyn prosecutors billed Mr. Solny with crimes related to the theft of eight houses. Following the indictment, Mr. Solny’s probation officer suggested that he be sentenced to prison for violating the terms of his plea offer in Queens. A verdict has not yet been arrived at in the Brooklyn circumstance.
The Queens deal did not bar Mr. Solny from buying far more actual estate, but the courtroom appointed a keep an eye on in 2018 to evaluation his company deals likely forward and flag any suspicious transactions.
In a overview of property information, The Moments located a questionable transaction carried out following Mr. Solny’s plea in Queens.
Elizabeth Lewis, 77, a retired bank employee, instructed The Situations that in late 2019, Mr. Solny presented to organize a short sale on a Brooklyn assets, a two-bed room brick house in East Flatbush belonging to Ms. Lewis’s sister, who had 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 explained she was compensated $5,000 with the promise of far more when the property was sold.
She signed more than the deed to a enterprise controlled by Mr. Solny, but the financial debt was not paid, according to property documents and the Section of Housing and Urban Progress, which holds the bank loan.
Comparable income demonstrate the house is likely truly worth additional than $500,000, but Ms. Lewis can no extended provide it since Mr. Solny’s firm is listed with the metropolis as the owner.
She has not read from Mr. Solny in almost two a long time, she stated.
Brian Sanvidge, who has overseen the evaluation of Mr. Solny’s transactions at Anchin, the checking company, stated that he experienced appeared at far more than 240 properties connected to Mr. Solny and had not caught the East Flatbush sale. He referred to as it “concerning” and mentioned he would report it to the Queens district attorney.
Public efforts have been produced to counter property fraud, but critics say the measures tumble limited.
The point out lawyer general’s office environment declared a marketing campaign to battle deed theft in 2020, funding no cost lawful expert services and mortgage loan help in neighborhoods susceptible to fraud. But relief for these who have already lost their households can be challenging to get: The office is currently prosecuting just a few deed theft cases.
A state regulation passed in 2019 involved a rule that makes it possible for prosecutors to file a movement to void a fraudulent assets transfer in connection with a guilty plea or verdict.
But the rule is narrowly described, restricting its use, and the method can still consider years, stated Rachel Geballe, a deputy director at Brooklyn Legal Solutions. Neither Queens nor Brooklyn prosecutors have applied the system, while the offices explained they had utilized other means to void fraudulent deeds.
For Ms. Bruce, 8 decades have handed since she signed her house over to Mr. Solny’s company. The Brooklyn felony case has been adjourned 13 times since late 2020. Mr. Farkas claimed in court docket in June that his consumer was taking into consideration a plea deal.
“I’m hoping some type of justice will arrive from this,” Ms. Bruce mentioned. “I say, ‘Lord, when is this likely to be above?’”
Susan Beachy contributed analysis.