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Bank Street developer once named one of New York's 'worst landlords'

It didn't take long, in trying to learn a little more about Neil Rubler, the New York real estate developer for whom New London changed its zoning rules to accommodate his proposed controversial apartment tower on Bank Street, to discover some of his troubled history as a landlord.

It turns out, according to numerous national news stories published in 2018, including in The Washington Post and Newsweek, Rubler is friends with Donald Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner, who once intervened to keep some negative stories about Rubler's company out of Kushner's newspaper, The New York Observer.

One of them was about Rubler being named one of New York's 10 worst landlords.

Indeed, a 2010 story from the now-defunct Village Voice is still online and includes a long description of how the newspaper came to put him so high on its list of worst landlords.

The reasons they gave centered around a complaint brought by then New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, accusing Rubler and his real estate company, Vantage Properties, of aggressively forcing out long-term tenants with frivolous eviction proceedings, to be able to rent the apartments for more money.

Rubler and his company eventually agreed to a $1 million settlement with Cuomo, money set aside to compensate abused tenants but also provide money to nonprofits to help provide free and educational legal services to tenants.

The harassment of tenants described by Cuomo, the Village Voice said, exacerbated the shortage of affordable housing at the time.

According to the Village Voice, Cuomo said Rubler's company sometimes didn't cash or returned rent checks before beginning eviction proceedings for nonpayment of rent.

"The landlord was forcing longterm, rent-regulated tenants to move out of their homes in order to impose significant rent increases on new tenants and increase profits," the Voice quoted from a statement from Cuomo's office.

When I caught up with Rubler this week I was responding to an email he sent to me, asking to talk about a column I had written about his controversial Bank Street five-story tower, which the city's Planning and Zoning Commission approved without discussing unanimous objections to it by members of the city's Historic District Commission.

Rubler said he was seeking my opinion about how the project might be made better.

When I turned the conversation to the Cuomo investigation and settlement, he said the history speaks for itself and he has nothing more to say about it.

Rubler then refused to discuss on the record other questions about the Bank Street project and his new company, Vessel Technologies, which is proposing it. The company is promoting the use of prefabricated modular units to create stacked apartment buildings.

The company claims the cheaper construction means savings can be passed on to tenants. But there is nothing in writing guaranteeing the apartments in the proposed Bank Street tower would be less than market rate.

The other thing that Rubler refused to discuss on the record is the ownership of the property for the new building at 174 Bank St.

According to city land records, a concrete company took title in March 2011. That might have been about the time that a proposed building project there failed, and only the concrete footings for the foundation were built.

The title passed in April 2011 to something called 174 LLC.

Rubler refused to answer any questions about whether he has an ownership in 174 LLC or is leasing the property or plans to buy it.

The planning commission, with the blessing of Mayor Michael Passero, made an extraordinary accommodation to a developer once named one of the 10 worst landlords in New York.

Commissioners changed zoning rules so that Rubler's new building, unlike all the existing buildings on Bank Street, could have residential, not commercial, space facing the sidewalk.

And then they voted unanimously to approve a project that insults all the hardworking, preservation-minded volunteers and property owners who are doing the right things to preserve New London's unique, historical downtown, with appropriate buildings in the right scale.

I'll say it again: Shame on the mayor and all the city planning commissioners who turned their back on one of the city's greatest assets: Bank Street's whaling-era streetscape.

This is the opinion of David Collins.

d.collins@theday.com

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