Around the earlier dozen a long time, Sanford Solny has built a New York real estate empire, snatching up small residential buildings throughout the town that churn out hundreds of hundreds of pounds in lease.
His portfolio would be enviable but for one particular factor — a great deal of it, prosecutors and owners contend, was stolen. In legal prices and lawsuits, they have accused him of fraud: featuring to assist householders struggling with foreclosures by arranging to pay out off their mortgages, when essentially tricking them into signing above their buildings at discount-basement selling prices. In virtually each individual case, the mortgage was in no way paid out, leaving the homeowner with no home but a pile of personal debt.
The exercise is identified 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 office has charged him with taking the residences of seven people, identified as his habits “despicable.” In Queens, prosecutors accused Mr. Solny and his associates of cheating 10 men and women out of their attributes. The courtroom appointed a check to scrutinize his transactions.
But an assessment by The New York Instances has located that not only is Mr. Solny nonetheless profiting from buildings below dispute, city organizations are contributing to his earnings by subsidizing the lease at some of his houses.
His circumstance exemplifies the sluggish and stumbling struggle in opposition to deed theft, which usually targets immigrants and Black and Latino property owners. Irrespective of recurring pledges from the New York Condition legal professional basic and legislature to curtail the fraud, only a tiny fraction of thousands of grievances are ever prosecuted. Property owners, stripped of their most major asset, are remaining to have interaction in a long and highly-priced fight to consider to reclaim their qualities in civil court docket.
A near critique of Mr. Solny’s holdings and transactions — drawing on housing court docket cases, lawsuits, metropolis residence records and interviews — reveals a prolonged history of questionable dealings and a mainly ineffective authorities response. In excess of extra than a ten years, Mr. Solny and companies joined to him took possession of at least 140 qualities, The Occasions observed. The former homeowners of 40 of those structures — which incorporate a coveted brownstone in gentrifying Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, a a few-tale condominium building near Rockaway Beach front and a suburban Craftsman-type household with a garden in Rosedale, Queens — have claimed they ended up victims of deed theft, civil and felony court records present.
Even even though Mr. Solny was beneath the eye of the watch, a firm controlled by him compensated a Brooklyn girl $5,000 for a home well worth about 100 times that much and still left her relatives with the financial debt, in accordance to the woman and city residence records.
By a world wide web of shell organizations, Mr. Solny still owns 19 properties whose entrepreneurs he has been accused of defrauding, and he collects lease from tenants he put in in many of them, according to court filings, metropolis documents and interviews. As criminal charges from Mr. Solny have piled up, metropolis agencies have paid the lease of tenants at some of people qualities by means of affordable-housing vouchers, The Times found.
“How does the procedure perform for him and not for us?” mentioned Janet Bruce, a retired dwelling wellness aide from Guyana who said in court docket filings that Mr. Solny walked into her household in Flatbush, Brooklyn, in 2014 with a stack of paper and a guarantee to rescue her and her spouse from foreclosures. He gave the few $14,000 but by no means compensated off their mortgage, she said.
He walked out as the operator of a making now truly worth about $900,000, reported Ms. Bruce, 69, who has sued Mr. Solny. The transaction is also part of the prison situation in Brooklyn.
From July 2014 by February of this 12 months, there were a lot more than 3,350 issues of deed theft in New York Town, nearly fifty percent of which were in Brooklyn, according to the town Section of Finance. The Brooklyn district attorney’s place of work brought rates in 27 scenarios of deed theft since 2014, according to a Occasions evaluation.
“It just will make you wonder how seriously we, as a culture, and our prison justice technique, get white-collar crime that in fact victimizes people today,” claimed Oda Friedheim, a supervising law firm at the Legal Aid Culture who discounts with assets fraud.
A law firm for Mr. Solny declined to solution particular questions from The Moments, citing the open up legal scenario in Brooklyn.
“The point that these consumers would reduce their households had been a foregone conclusion very long prior to they ever fulfilled Mr. Solny,” the lawyer, Michael Farkas, explained in a assertion. “When they sought his aid with handling that regrettable and complicated reality, these clients executed paperwork that obviously conveyed their attributes to Mr. Solny.”
Deed fraud problems in New York Town have fallen from a peak of 665 in 2015 to 154 final yr. But those numbers mask what could be a looming surge now that protections against foreclosures that were being set in put for the duration of the pandemic have expired.
“You have a really high quantity of home owners that are in distress, and real estate in New York has by no means been additional beneficial,” stated Ivy Perez, the senior policy and research manager for the Middle for NYC Neighborhoods, an very affordable-housing nonprofit. “That is a strong combination for scammers.”
‘We Dropped Everything’
Deed theft requires unique kinds, but Mr. Solny is accused of 1 of the most typical.
The fraud preys on people today who are in threat of shedding their households, information that is simply obtainable in real estate databases. Some customers also recruit nearby inhabitants to come across persons they know who are in economic problems.
Property owners are told they qualify for a quick sale — a deal in which the loan company settles for much less than the amount of money owed on the mortgage. The entrepreneurs, now resigned to losing their houses to foreclosure and bewildered by a mountain of paperwork, believe that the offer will at minimum alleviate them of their credit card debt and give them a compact volume of cash.
In reality, the documents they sign transfer possession of the constructing even though still leaving the property owners accountable for the credit card debt. The person committing the fraud provides in tenants and collects lease, at times for years, until banking companies or other creditors at last foreclose on the house.
Ms. Bruce fell behind on her mortgage payments in 2013, right after her spouse, James, a approach examiner for the Division of Buildings, experienced a stroke.
A close friend from church referred Ms. Bruce to Mr. Solny, who mentioned he could assistance prepare a small sale. Mr. Solny informed her she would shed the residence but the mortgage would be paid, and he would take treatment of everything as her law firm, she claimed in her lawsuit.
Mr. Solny and his associates arrived late, Ms. Bruce stated, and then rushed her and her husband to signal paperwork in individual rooms. He paid out them every single $7,000, according to the complaint.
No brief-sale endeavor was made, she claimed, but a deed transferring the house to East 29th Street Realty Inc. was recorded with the metropolis, data exhibit. Mr. Solny signed as the purchaser, and his daughter, Shandelle Solny, signed as a witness. For years, since of assurances from Mr. Solny, Ms. Bruce did not know that the escalating financial debt would continue being in her title, she stated. She owes roughly $350,000 — a financial debt she could pay out, with revenue to spare, if she had been capable to offer or refinance the residence.
Mr. Solny put in tenants shortly immediately after the couple moved out and has gathered additional than $200,000 from the making, in accordance to Monthly bill Lienhard, a law firm for Ms. Bruce. Two latest tenants verified to The Situations that they compensated lease to a enterprise managed by Mr. Solny.
“He collects lease right until the foreclosures is performed, and then he’s out — what does he care?” said Toby Cohen, a further law firm who has represented quite a few individuals suing Mr. Solny.
Prosecutors say they are hamstrung by the law: They will have to present there was felony intent in situations that are not as slam-dunk as these they prefer to convey to courtroom. Several years can go by prior to a house owner realizes what occurred, and the transactions are complicated. What a single man or woman promises as fraud can be defended as just a lopsided company offer.
“Deed theft is notoriously hard to examine 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 property owner can try out to reclaim a title, and victims generally can not find the money for a law firm. The plaintiffs not often win — attributes once owned by a number of of Mr. Cohen’s clients were sold at foreclosure auctions to other functions in advance of the cases could be settled.
Litigation is sophisticated by a net of shell organizations controlled by Mr. Solny and members of his loved ones. Of the 140 transactions The Periods joined to Mr. Solny, none was individually deeded to him. Rather, he signed as an officer of a corporate entity that assumed ownership.
“We missing everything,” Ms. Bruce stated, recalling a period of time 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 challenging it is to be picking up the items when you are in your senior many years?”
No Warmth or Hot H2o
Householders are not the only types influenced. Tenants and town agencies have complained of really serious basic safety and well being dangers at structures owned by businesses joined to Mr. Solny.
Of the 19 disputed attributes individuals businesses nonetheless owned as of June, 15 had open housing violations, which include for warmth and sizzling-h2o failures, unsafe wiring and pest infestations.
“They’re not executing practically nothing — never ever have heating, never take care of nothing,” explained Sandy Triunfel, a house attendant who in 2017 stopped shelling out lease on her apartment in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, in accordance to court records, mainly because she mentioned she did not get hot water or gas for months.
The owner, Blue Realty & Companies Team, a firm tied to Mr. Solny, evicted her the following 12 months. The earlier home-owner had claimed in civil court docket that the corporation had tricked him into signing in excess of the deed to the household.
At Ms. Bruce’s former residence, town inspectors observed almost 4 dozen lead paint violations in February 2019, when a mother and her eight youngsters ended up living there. Immediately after the tenants used for crisis rental aid, the city compensated around $21,000 in back again hire to Mr. Solny’s corporation. Two present tenants said the metropolis was nevertheless having to pay some of their hire by way of subsidies.
It was just one of 3 disputed qualities exactly where The Occasions discovered the town had included the lease for Mr. Solny’s tenants. The New York Town Housing Authority, which compensated subsidies at one of the attributes, stated it experienced considering that additional Mr. Solny’s business to a record of banned landlords.
Neha Sharma, a spokeswoman for the town Section of Social Expert services, which administers the hire support system at the other two structures, explained the agency’s precedence was to protect housing steadiness for tenants.
A Buying Spree
Mr. Solny, 65, who is recognized as Sandy, has been on the city’s radar for many years.
In 2012, he was suspended from practicing law for pilfering $600,000 from his dying uncle, in accordance to a disciplinary board decision. He compensated back again the revenue but stays suspended.
The upcoming year, Mr. Solny and his daughter went on a obtaining spree: at minimum 50 houses in Queens, Brooklyn and the Bronx, lots of of which had been in or approaching foreclosures. On a one day in March 2013, they signed the deeds to three houses in East New York, a predominantly Black community in Brooklyn, in accordance to town documents.
Tenants and home owners described him as cordial, with a soft voice and grandfatherly mien.
“He’s incredibly slick,” claimed Richard Severe, who sued a firm controlled by Mr. Solny in 2015 for boasting the title to his two-loved ones dwelling in East New York. The circumstance is open.
In 2016, Mr. Solny and his associates were billed in Queens with crimes linked to the theft of 10 houses. He pleaded responsible two decades later to a lesser demand of criminal possession of stolen house and was sentenced to up to 5 years of probation.
Mr. Solny paid a fine and returned hire he experienced collected, and five deeds ended up voided as a consequence of the offer. His daughter, Shandelle, 31, was charged with tax fraud and compensated restitution in a plea offer. Ms. Solny declined to remark beyond the assertion issued by her father’s attorney.
In 2020, Brooklyn prosecutors charged Mr. Solny with crimes linked to the theft of 8 properties. Subsequent the indictment, Mr. Solny’s probation officer advised 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 acquiring more real estate, but the court appointed a monitor in 2018 to evaluate his organization promotions going forward and flag any suspicious transactions.
In a evaluation of house data, The Moments found a questionable transaction executed immediately after Mr. Solny’s plea in Queens.
Elizabeth Lewis, 77, a retired lender worker, explained to The Times that in late 2019, Mr. Solny available to arrange a brief sale on a Brooklyn house, a two-bed room brick home in East Flatbush belonging to Ms. Lewis’s sister, who had a reverse mortgage and other credit card debt.
Ms. Lewis mentioned 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 out $5,000 with the guarantee of additional when the household was bought.
She signed more than the deed to a firm managed by Mr. Solny, but the personal debt was not compensated, according to home information and the Department of Housing and Urban Enhancement, which holds the mortgage.
Equivalent revenue display the home is most likely well worth extra than $500,000, but Ms. Lewis can no extended promote it since Mr. Solny’s company is listed with the town as the owner.
She has not heard from Mr. Solny in practically two several years, she explained.
Brian Sanvidge, who has overseen the review of Mr. Solny’s transactions at Anchin, the checking business, reported that he experienced seemed at a lot more than 240 attributes connected to Mr. Solny and had not caught the East Flatbush sale. He called it “concerning” and stated he would report it to the Queens district attorney.
Very little Relief
General public initiatives have been produced to counter house fraud, but critics say the steps fall shorter.
The state lawyer general’s business announced a marketing campaign to battle deed theft in 2020, funding totally free legal products and services and mortgage guidance in neighborhoods susceptible to fraud. But aid for these who have presently lost their properties can be difficult to get: The business is at the moment prosecuting just three deed theft instances.
A condition law handed in 2019 bundled a rule that enables prosecutors to file a motion to void a fraudulent residence transfer in connection with a responsible plea or verdict.
But the rule is narrowly defined, limiting its use, and the approach can still just take years, said Rachel Geballe, a deputy director at Brooklyn Authorized Companies. Neither Queens nor Brooklyn prosecutors have made use of the system, despite the fact that the offices mentioned they had utilized other indicates to void fraudulent deeds.
For Ms. Bruce, 8 years have passed considering the fact that she signed her house in excess of to Mr. Solny’s enterprise. The Brooklyn felony case has been adjourned 13 situations considering that late 2020. Mr. Farkas stated in courtroom in June that his customer was looking at a plea offer.
“I’m hoping some type of justice will occur from this,” Ms. Bruce said. “I say, ‘Lord, when is this going to be above?’”
Susan Beachy contributed study.