Join Our Telegram Channel


Prime Apartments Landlord Cheskel Brach has recently filed a Motion to Dismiss a lawsuit filed by his tenants.

This motion remains pending with no Opposition yet filed by the tenants.

In the meantime though, the tenants have filed yet another Order To Show Cause seeking for emergent relief from the Court!

As first reported here on FAA News, 60 tenants of Prime Apartment tenants have served their landlord and his property manager with a Superior Court lawsuit alleging a long list of illegal rent increases and associated harassment, intimidation and retaliation.

The tenants are Alexander Sternbuch, Shmuel and Rochel Bogart, Dovid Balter, Shmuel Banker, Aaron Beer, Yaakov Cohen, Moshe and Feigy Eisemann, Ezra Esses, Tzvi and Zipora Feifer, Chezky Feigenbaum, Yehoshua Finkel, Yisroel Friedman, Ashi Fuchs, Boruch Gellis, Yaakov Glustein, Yonah Goldberg, Yaakov Gordon, Esther Gorelick, Elozor Greenberger, Shmuel Grunhut, Yehuda Gugenheimer, Alter Halberstam, James Holtzberg, Yisroel Kanarek, Dovid Kaplan, Kirnos, Zev Kramer, Abraham Leibiker, Yehuda and Yehudis Marcus, Steven Meisels, Yisrael Mordowitz, Nochum Naiman, Chayala and Moshe Olshin, Dovid Paskesz, Meir Poltzer, Tzvi Puretz, Shlomo Reidel, Mordechai Reis, Menachem Rosenblum, Dov Rosenman, David Rothstein, Yaakov Schechter, Chaim Schwab, Chanoch Shapiro, Temima and Zachary Shemesh, Naftoli Simon, Yosef and Zizi Simon, Mordechai Snyder, Samuel Tepfer, Yisroel Weiss, and Moshe Wilner.

The tenants are represented by Attorney Ian Goldman Esq. of Levin Shea Pfeffer and Goldman. (Mr. Goldman also serves as the Lakewood Municipal Prosecutor and counsel to the Lakewood Township Municipal Utilities Authority and Board of Fire Commissioners.)

Defendants are Prime Apartments, which is owned by Cheskel Brach, and Rushmore Management, the property manager.

Prime Apartments is a 104-unit residential building, with 4 of those units classified as storage units pursuant to their Lakewood Zoning Board approval.

According to the tenants allegations:

The landlord, Cheskel Brach entered into contracts he prepared with tenants and specifically in writing agreed not to raise rents more than 5% at renewal and be bound by Lakewood rent control.

However, he is attempting, and has raised rent above the 5% Lakewood Township Rent Control Ordinance, and in one instance raised rent 50% over current rent in breach of not only the existing leases but also in violation of law.

Additionally, Brach contends that there is no Lakewood rent control law or rule as Deputy Mayor Menashe Miller years ago abolished the Rent Control Board and his building is new and exempt from rent control and hardship for landlord.

In 2014, Prime Apartments submitted an application to the Lakewood Zoning Board to construct a building with 104 apartments. The application was represented by Attorney Abraham Penzer Esq.

Ultimately, the Board approved the application but with a stipulation that there be only 100 apartments rented for residential use, and the remaining 4 apartments are to be for storage use only.

The developers of the building originally decided to use this stipulation to their advantage by expressly advertising that the building will contain units for storage space and that the tenants of the residential apartments will be able to make use of this "extra storage area."

Chaskel Brach and David Glick were the owners of the building when the building was brought on the market and leases were offered to the tenants.

Many of the new tenants received lease agreements which stated a rent amount of $1,795, however they were told that the actual rent via rent concession would be approximately $400-500 less each month, depending on the tenant.

The reason for this odd set up, allegedly, was to defraud the bank by inflating the value of the property. The tenants had no idea and were duped into being pawns which enabled the landlords to do their fraud.

In the beginning of the third year of the lease, in December 2020, Prime renewed another lease but requested a rent increase of $35 for a total rent of $1,335, a 2.7% increase over the base rent of $1,300 - well within the Township's 5% rent control ordinance.

However, suddenly, in January 2023, despite the terms of the current lease, letters were sent to a number of tenants stating that their rent would increase to $2,000.

The letters to the tenants indicated that because the building was newly built, it is exempt from the Township's 5% cap on rent increase.

However, the Township's ordinance specifies that such landlords are only exempt if they expressly write in their initial leases that the building is exempt from rent control, and the date when the exemption expires.

Additionally, State Statue requires landlords of rent control exempt buildings to file as a new building 30 days prior to the issuance of a Certificate of Occupancy, which this landlord failed to do.

To date, some of the tenants have collectively decided to continue to make payments to the landlord at 5% above their most recent lease that they agreed to.

Each month they receive a statement from the landlord with arrears accruing as a balance for not paying the full amount requested pursuant to the landlord's unilateral and illegal lease changes and rental increase.

Eviction proceedings and threats of eviction proceedings have started due to these partial payments which is why the Plaintiffs have initiated this action.

The landlord is bound to the contract he drafted and he failed to comply with requirements to claim exemption from rent control and just the opposite bound himself contractually to rent control.

The defendants are attempting to rescind all contracts and leases of their current tenants through a campaign of threats and intimidation unless tenants agree to an illegal and substantial rent increase.

The ten count lawsuit alleges that the defendants violated the following laws and regulations in the State of New Jersey:

1) Lakewood Rent Control Rules

2) Destruction and Removal of Tenants Properties from Storage Units - in order to intimidate the tenants to pay higher rent, the landlord removed their property from the storage units and began to renovate those units into rental apartments

3) Intimidation of Tenants Through Threats of Harassment - the landlord first attempted to buy them out of using the storage units, then attempted to evict them from using the units, and even attempted to charge them extra for using the units

4) Non-payment of Utilities and Threats of Water Shut-off - despite the tenants having paid rent as required under their leases, they have received notices that their utilities will be shut down

5) Lack of Heat Due to Poor Insulation - the building has been at 50° in the winter due to the landlord's failure to fix the insulation

6) Lakewood Zoning Ordinance - the landlord does not provide 1.5 parking spaces per unit as required

7) Retaliation Against Tenants - it is Mr. Brach's stated goal to make it untenable to live in the building so he can charge new tenants as much as he wants and chase out existing tenants from the building. He has threatened to remove tenants for "overcrowding," and he is further threatening to remove tenants property from the storage if they are not marked up with the tenants name and further limiting access to the storage units for several hours per day

8) Breach of Contract

9) Breach of Covenant of Good Faith and Fair Dealing

10) Consumer Fraud Act

The lawsuit seeks for an order reinstating the rental amounts to the initial amounts, ordering that the tenants regain access to the storage units, compensatory damages, punitive damages, attorney costs and fees, and any such other damages as the law deems just and proper to make the Plaintiffs whole again.

The lawsuit specifically demands a jury trial.

As previously reported here on FAA News, following the filing of this lawsuit, Cheskel Brach, the landlord of Prime Apartments, served the tenants with a Hasra'ah (a warning) from the Bais Din of the Central Rabbinical Congress of the U.S.A. and Canada (the CRC).

Additionally, as previously reported here on FAA News, Bais Din Zedek which is under the auspicies of Rav Yisroel Knopfler, has also authored a Hasra'ah against the tenants.

As previously reported here on FAA News, Marlton Attorney Lori C. Greenberg, Esq., representing Prime Apartments, has filed an Answer to the Complaint together with counter-claims and separate defenses.

As previously reported here on FAA News, back in June 2023, the tenants cranked things up a whole notch higher by filing in Court for emergent relief seeking to take the building out of the hands of its landlord and have a Receiver appointed to manage the building instead!

The tenants emergency court filing remains pending with no hearing yet scheduled.

In the meantime, as previously reported here on FAA News, the landlord filed a Motion to Dismiss the Complaint for Failure to State A Claim.

Astoundingly, while this motion - to which the tenants have not yet responded - remains pending before Judge Valter Must with a return date of Friday, September 8, 2023, the tenants have just now filed yet another Motion for Order To Show Cause, urging for emergent judicial relief.

The original Order To Show Cause sought for the building to be taken out of the hands of the landlord and given to a receiver.

Since the filing of the emergent order nearly 2 months ago - which has not received a formal hearing in court because the landlord has requested an adjournment - the landlord has continued to refuse to sign any HUD applications unless the tenants agree to enter into new lease agreements (at a much higher rent amount). Additionally, the landlord has filed an eviction proceeding against some of the tenants and he certified in the legal application that there is no other pending lawsuit regarding the matter.

As the HUD applications are due August 31, and the eviction proceeding has impacted the tenants ability to obtain a mortgage, the tenants have now renewed their application for emergent judicial relief.

While not formally backing down from their earlier motion for the appointment of a receiver, the tenants' motion only seeks to order the landlord to sign their HUD applications, to withdraw any eviction filings, and to stop any further harassment and retaliatory actions. The motion also seeks to recover legal fees to show the landlord that they mean business.

Nochum Maiman, one of the tenants, alleges in the legal filing that his initial rent was $1,300; in January 2023 the rent was increased to over $2,000, and then again in June 2023 he was told that the rent would again increase to $2,483. He refused to sign this "invalid contract, as our prior lease was still in place." In response, the landlord has just filed an eviction proceeding in Landlord - Tenant Court against him despite that he has consistently paid rent with no issues for 5 years; and in that eviction proceeding the landlord untruthfully certified that "the matter in controversy is not the subject of any other lawsuit," despite knowing about this instant lawsuit. Specifically, due to this fraudulent misrepresentation associated with filing an eviction proceeding, his ability to get a mortgage has been severely impacted.

"If the Court does not intervene in this matter, I am fearful that all of the tenants will receive eviction papers. Further, if the Court does not intervene in this matter, the landlord will continue to extort and harass the current tenants. I am further asking the Court to hear the initial Order To Show Cause and appoint a receiver immediately in this matter, in the best interests of 50 or more tenants associated with this lawsuit," urged Mr. Goldman.

Chaya Olshin, another tenant, alleges in the legal filing that her initial rent amount for 2 years in 2019-2021 was $1,350; it then increased to $1,360. At some point it increased to $1,428. In June 2023 she asked the landlord to sign her HUD application. In response, the landlord said she first needs to sign a new lease for $2,200, which she alleges is "a form of extortion."

"If the Court does not intervene in this matter, multiple tenants will be unable to receive HUD assistance and will be unable to afford rent, leaving them without a residence," Attorney Ian Goldman Esq. certified.

Pursuant to the 1982 case known as Crowe v. DeGioia, the New Jersey Supreme Court has established that the following criteria must be clearly and convincingly demonstrated to receive injunctive relief:
1) irreparable harm is likely if the relief is denied;
2) the applicable underlying law is well settled;
3) the material facts are not substantially disputed, and there exists a reasonable probability of ultimate success on the merits; and
4) the balance of the hardship to the parties favors the issuance of the requested relief.

"As to the first prong, the tenants have demonstrated irreparable harm in the event that immediate relief is not granted. Given the totality of this matter, and despite the landlord's knowledge of, and the current nature of the Complaint filed against him, he has nonetheless sent threatening emails to the tenants (to remove the lobby furniture and lock down access to the storage units), and followed through with such threats. In addition, the landlord has refused to sign the tenants HUD applications for over two months, with the knowledge that the application is due by the last day of August. Further, the landlord - with assistance of his counsel - has knowingly and fraudulently filed false Eviction Complaints for unpaid rent against the tenants while this lawsuit remains pending.

"As to the second and third prongs, the law and material facts in this matter are clear. The tenants have a right to live in their home without inference of threat and harassment from their landlord. The tenants have a high likelihood of success on the merits. Without judicial intervention to review such a matter, the tenants will continue to threaten and harass the tenants without limit.

"As to the fourth prong, the balance of the relative hardship certainly weighs in favor of the tenants' requested relief. Over a period of years, the landlord has mistreated the tenants including, but not limited to, illegal increase of rent, refusing to fix the elevators, starting premature evictions, not paying utilities, denying tenants access to storage units, and now sending threatening emails and following through with such threats. Further, if this matter is not heard, many tenants will lose their ability to submit a HUD application due to the landlord's intentional refusal to sign the documentations without a new lease agreement," Mr. Goldman wrote.

The motion also seeks legal fees for 3 reasons; 1) the landlord was warned about this and given an opportunity to cure this, and they have not; 2) there is a need to deter further harassment and extortion and legal fees to the tenants will send a strong message to the landlord that his actions will not be tolerated; 3) the original lease agreement provides that if a tenant is successful in any legal processing arising out of this lease, the tenant shall recover legal fees from the landlord.

Mr. Goldman's proposed Order directs the landlord to sign all HUD applications before August 31; to honor all original lease agreements; to withdraw any conflicting eviction complaints; and to be barred from filing any further eviction proceedings.

Judge Valter Must has not yet scheduled a hearing date on this just filed motion.

Mr. Goldman also filed a Motion to Extend Discovery an additional 60 days.

When the landlord filed an Answer to the Complaint, they also served the tenants with discovery which included a list of interrogatories and notices to propound.

"Our response to Interrogatories in this matter is now past due. As this Court is aware, there is a multitude of Plaintiff’s in this matter, approximately 50. Due to the number of Plaintiffs associated with this case, it has taken myself, along with my support staff additional time to receive all corresponding documentation from each Plaintiff. In addition, many of the Plaintiff’s in this matter are parents of young children, on summer break who have been traveling for the summer, which has caused a delay in their production of documents to my office.

"Due to the number of Plaintiff’s in this matter, and their vacations, we are kindly requesting a 60-day extension to produce of Interrogatories, and Request to Produce Document," wrote Mr. Goldman.

This motion is returnable before Judge Must on Friday, September 8, 2023, at the same time that the landlord's motion to dismiss is returnable.

To join a FAA News WhatsApp Group, click here.

To join the FAA News WhatsApp Status, click here.

No comments: