Above the previous dozen many years, Sanford Solny has created a New York serious estate empire, snatching up little household buildings across the town that churn out hundreds of 1000’s of bucks in rent.
His portfolio would be enviable but for 1 issue — a great deal of it, prosecutors and home owners contend, was stolen. In legal charges and lawsuits, they have accused him of fraud: presenting to assist householders experiencing foreclosure by arranging to shell out off their mortgages, whilst in fact tricking them into signing more than their properties at cut price-basement charges. In virtually each and every situation, the home finance loan was by no means paid, leaving the house owner with no assets but a pile of personal debt.
The practice is recognised as deed theft, and as metropolis and point out officers promised to crack down on it, they homed in on Mr. Solny. The Brooklyn district attorney, whose office environment has billed him with taking the residences of 7 family members, called his behavior “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 evaluation by The New York Occasions has discovered that not only is Mr. Solny even now profiting from buildings under dispute, metropolis organizations are contributing to his earnings by subsidizing the rent at some of his properties.
His case exemplifies the gradual and stumbling battle from deed theft, which often targets immigrants and Black and Latino house owners. In spite of repeated pledges from the New York Condition legal professional standard and legislature to curtail the fraud, only a little fraction of hundreds of issues are ever prosecuted. Owners, stripped of their most substantial asset, are remaining to engage in a prolonged and high priced struggle to attempt to reclaim their qualities in civil court.
A shut assessment of Mr. Solny’s holdings and transactions — drawing on housing court situations, lawsuits, city assets data and interviews — reveals a lengthy file of questionable dealings and a largely ineffective governing administration reaction. Around additional than a decade, Mr. Solny and businesses joined to him took possession of at minimum 140 qualities, The Moments discovered. The previous proprietors of 40 of these structures — which include a coveted brownstone in gentrifying Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, a three-story condominium setting up near Rockaway Seaside and a suburban Craftsman-type home with a garden in Rosedale, Queens — have claimed they have been victims of deed theft, civil and legal court docket records show.
Even when Mr. Solny was less than the eye of the observe, a enterprise managed by him compensated a Brooklyn female $5,000 for a home really worth about 100 moments that substantially and remaining her family with the credit card debt, according to the woman and metropolis home data.
Via a world wide web of shell firms, Mr. Solny nonetheless owns 19 homes whose proprietors he has been accused of defrauding, and he collects hire from tenants he set up in several of them, in accordance to courtroom filings, town information and interviews. As felony rates in opposition to Mr. Solny have piled up, city agencies have paid the hire of tenants at some of these homes by means of inexpensive-housing vouchers, The Occasions found.
“How does the system do the job for him and not for us?” claimed Janet Bruce, a retired dwelling well being aide from Guyana who reported in court filings that Mr. Solny walked into her dwelling in Flatbush, Brooklyn, in 2014 with a stack of paper and a guarantee to rescue her and her partner from foreclosure. He gave the pair $14,000 but under no circumstances paid off their home finance loan, she reported.
He walked out as the owner of a making now value about $900,000, reported Ms. Bruce, 69, who has sued Mr. Solny. The transaction is also portion of the legal case in Brooklyn.
From July 2014 through February of this calendar year, there were being much more than 3,350 complaints of deed theft in New York Town, practically 50 % of which had been in Brooklyn, according to the town Office of Finance. The Brooklyn district attorney’s workplace introduced prices in 27 scenarios of deed theft considering that 2014, in accordance to a Instances critique.
“It just makes you speculate how significantly we, as a society, and our felony justice technique, get white-collar criminal offense that truly victimizes persons,” reported Oda Friedheim, a supervising law firm at the Lawful Assist Culture who deals with residence fraud.
A attorney for Mr. Solny declined to solution distinct questions from The Times, citing the open up criminal case in Brooklyn.
“The fact that these shoppers would drop their houses had been a foregone conclusion prolonged just before they at any time achieved Mr. Solny,” the lawyer, Michael Farkas, mentioned in a statement. “When they sought his assistance with running that unlucky and sophisticated reality, these purchasers executed documents that clearly conveyed their houses to Mr. Solny.”
Deed fraud issues in New York Metropolis have fallen from a peak of 665 in 2015 to 154 very last 12 months. But those quantities mask what could be a looming surge now that protections versus foreclosures that had been put in place for the duration of the pandemic have expired.
“You have a extremely high selection of home owners that are in distress, and real estate in New York has never ever been more valuable,” explained Ivy Perez, the senior plan and analysis manager for the Centre for NYC Neighborhoods, an very affordable-housing nonprofit. “That is a potent combination for scammers.”
‘We Lost Everything’
Deed theft can take different sorts, but Mr. Solny is accused of one of the most typical.
The fraud preys on individuals who are in danger of losing their households, details that is simply obtainable in authentic estate databases. Some potential buyers also recruit regional citizens to discover individuals they know who are in economical difficulty.
Home owners are informed they qualify for a limited sale — a deal in which the financial institution settles for significantly less than the amount owed on the house loan. The house owners, now resigned to shedding their homes to foreclosures and perplexed by a mountain of paperwork, feel the deal will at least ease them of their debt and give them a little total of cash.
In reality, the paperwork they signal transfer ownership of the setting up when still leaving the homeowners liable for the credit card debt. The person committing the fraud provides in tenants and collects hire, sometimes for a long time, until banking companies or other loan companies eventually foreclose on the home.
Ms. Bruce fell powering on her mortgage loan payments in 2013, just after her spouse, James, a prepare examiner for the Office of Properties, had a stroke.
A good friend from church referred Ms. Bruce to Mr. Solny, who explained he could support set up a quick sale. Mr. Solny informed her she would lose the property but the mortgage loan would be paid, and he would get care of almost everything as her law firm, she stated in her lawsuit.
Mr. Solny and his associates arrived late, Ms. Bruce explained, and then rushed her and her husband to indication paperwork in independent rooms. He paid out them every $7,000, according to the complaint.
No short-sale try was made, she explained, but a deed transferring the residence to East 29th Road Realty Inc. was recorded with the city, records present. Mr. Solny signed as the buyer, and his daughter, Shandelle Solny, signed as a witness. For years, simply because of assurances from Mr. Solny, Ms. Bruce did not realize that the escalating personal debt would continue being in her name, she stated. She owes roughly $350,000 — a debt she could pay out, with dollars to spare, if she have been ready to sell or refinance the home.
Mr. Solny mounted tenants shortly right after the couple moved out and has gathered much more than $200,000 from the creating, according to Monthly bill Lienhard, a attorney for Ms. Bruce. Two current tenants verified to The Moments that they paid out hire to a business managed by Mr. Solny.
“He collects hire until eventually the foreclosure is performed, and then he’s out — what does he care?” said Toby Cohen, one more law firm who has represented many individuals suing Mr. Solny.
Prosecutors say they are hamstrung by the law: They will have to exhibit there was felony intent in situations that are not as slam-dunk as these they prefer to deliver to court. A long time can go by in advance of a home-owner realizes what occurred, and the transactions are difficult. What a single particular person claims as fraud can be defended as just a lopsided business offer.
“Deed theft is notoriously hard to examine and prosecute,” explained Melinda Katz, the Queens district attorney. The sentiment was echoed by Eric Gonzalez, the Brooklyn district lawyer.
Civil lawsuits are commonly the only way a house owner can check out to reclaim a title, and victims generally are not able to afford a lawyer. The plaintiffs almost never gain — attributes the moment owned by a number of of Mr. Cohen’s purchasers had been marketed at foreclosure auctions to other get-togethers ahead of the situations could be settled.
Litigation is complicated by a net of shell organizations controlled by Mr. Solny and members of his spouse and children. Of the 140 transactions The Situations joined to Mr. Solny, none was individually deeded to him. Instead, he signed as an officer of a corporate entity that assumed possession.
“We shed almost everything,” Ms. Bruce reported, recalling a period when she slept on friends’ couches and still left New York for less costly housing in Philadelphia. Her husband died in 2020. “Do you know how tricky it is to be finding up the items when you’re in your senior several years?”
No Warmth or Sizzling Water
Property owners are not the only kinds afflicted. Tenants and metropolis businesses have complained of severe basic safety and well being dangers at properties owned by corporations connected to Mr. Solny.
Of the 19 disputed homes all those companies nevertheless owned as of June, 15 experienced open up housing violations, which include for heat and scorching-h2o failures, unsafe wiring and pest infestations.
“They’re not accomplishing nothing at all — never ever have heating, under no circumstances correct nothing,” reported Sandy Triunfel, a residence attendant who in 2017 stopped paying out lease on her apartment in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, in accordance to courtroom records, since she claimed she did not get hot water or gasoline for months.
The operator, Blue Realty & Expert services Group, a organization tied to Mr. Solny, evicted her the subsequent 12 months. The previous property owner had claimed in civil court docket that the company experienced tricked him into signing above the deed to the dwelling.
At Ms. Bruce’s former household, town inspectors found almost 4 dozen guide paint violations in February 2019, when a mom and her eight little ones were being dwelling there. Soon after the tenants utilized for crisis rental help, the metropolis paid out about $21,000 in again lease to Mr. Solny’s firm. Two current tenants reported the city was continue to having to pay some of their lease by subsidies.
It was just one of 3 disputed qualities where The Instances located the metropolis had protected the hire for Mr. Solny’s tenants. The New York Metropolis Housing Authority, which compensated subsidies at just one of the properties, claimed it had considering the fact that additional Mr. Solny’s business to a listing of banned landlords.
Neha Sharma, a spokeswoman for the city Department of Social Companies, which administers the lease guidance application at the other two properties, claimed the agency’s priority was to protect housing security for tenants.
A Obtaining Spree
Mr. Solny, 65, who is known as Sandy, has been on the city’s radar for years.
In 2012, he was suspended from training legislation for pilfering $600,000 from his dying uncle, in accordance to a disciplinary board determination. He paid back again the cash but continues to be suspended.
The following calendar year, Mr. Solny and his daughter went on a getting spree: at the very least 50 residences in Queens, Brooklyn and the Bronx, lots of of which were in or approaching foreclosures. On a single day in March 2013, they signed the deeds to three households in East New York, a predominantly Black neighborhood in Brooklyn, in accordance to city documents.
Tenants and home owners explained him as cordial, with a comfortable voice and grandfatherly mien.
“He’s extremely slick,” said Richard Extreme, who sued a organization managed by Mr. Solny in 2015 for proclaiming the title to his two-household property in East New York. The scenario is open up.
In 2016, Mr. Solny and his associates have been billed in Queens with crimes related to the theft of 10 homes. He pleaded responsible two a long time afterwards to a lesser cost of criminal possession of stolen home and was sentenced to up to five years of probation.
Mr. Solny paid a great and returned hire he had gathered, and 5 deeds were being voided as a end result of the offer. His daughter, Shandelle, 31, was charged with tax fraud and compensated restitution in a plea deal. Ms. Solny declined to remark beyond the statement issued by her father’s lawyer.
In 2020, Brooklyn prosecutors billed Mr. Solny with crimes linked to the theft of eight attributes. Adhering to the indictment, Mr. Solny’s probation officer proposed that he be sentenced to jail for violating the terms of his plea offer in Queens. A verdict has not still been attained in the Brooklyn case.
The Queens offer did not bar Mr. Solny from acquiring a lot more serious estate, but the court docket appointed a observe in 2018 to review his business enterprise offers heading forward and flag any suspicious transactions.
In a evaluate of property records, The Situations located a questionable transaction performed right after Mr. Solny’s plea in Queens.
Elizabeth Lewis, 77, a retired lender employee, explained to The Moments that in late 2019, Mr. Solny presented to arrange a short sale on a Brooklyn assets, a two-bedroom brick house in East Flatbush belonging to Ms. Lewis’s sister, who experienced a reverse mortgage loan and other credit card debt.
Ms. Lewis claimed 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 reported she was compensated $5,000 with the assure of a lot more when the household was marketed.
She signed in excess of the deed to a business controlled by Mr. Solny, but the financial debt was not paid out, according to property records and the Department of Housing and City Advancement, which holds the personal loan.
Comparable revenue display the property is likely worth extra than $500,000, but Ms. Lewis can no lengthier provide it simply because Mr. Solny’s company is shown with the metropolis as the owner.
She has not read from Mr. Solny in almost two decades, she reported.
Brian Sanvidge, who has overseen the review of Mr. Solny’s transactions at Anchin, the checking business, stated that he experienced looked at additional than 240 homes related to Mr. Solny and had not caught the East Flatbush sale. He termed it “concerning” and claimed he would report it to the Queens district attorney.
Public endeavours have been made to counter home fraud, but critics say the steps drop small.
The state legal professional general’s office environment introduced a marketing campaign to fight deed theft in 2020, funding absolutely free authorized products and services and home loan assistance in neighborhoods vulnerable to fraud. But relief for those who have currently misplaced their properties can be difficult to get: The place of work is at the moment prosecuting just a few deed theft instances.
A point out law passed in 2019 incorporated a rule that enables prosecutors to file a movement to void a fraudulent house transfer in link with a responsible plea or verdict.
But the rule is narrowly outlined, limiting its use, and the procedure can even now take several years, said Rachel Geballe, a deputy director at Brooklyn Legal Companies. Neither Queens nor Brooklyn prosecutors have used the system, despite the fact that the workplaces reported they had used other signifies to void fraudulent deeds.
For Ms. Bruce, eight several years have passed given that she signed her household about to Mr. Solny’s organization. The Brooklyn legal case has been adjourned 13 situations given that late 2020. Mr. Farkas said in court docket in June that his consumer was taking into consideration a plea offer.
“I’m hoping some type of justice will appear from this,” Ms. Bruce claimed. “I say, ‘Lord, when is this heading to be above?’”
Susan Beachy contributed analysis.