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Jailed Manhattan landlord faces new charges of harassing tenants in decrepit buildings

A Manhattan landlord jailed for repeatedly blowing off court-ordered repairs at a pair of Washington Heights properties now faces a new set of legal problems, after prosecutors charged him on Wednesday with harassing tenants through “dangerous and dilapidated conditions” at five of his apartment buildings.

Daniel Ohebshalom, 49, pleaded not guilty at Manhattan Criminal Court to dozens of counts of falsifying building records, harassing rent-regulated tenants to get them to move, and endangering the welfare of a child.

He was released without bail and transported back to Rikers Island to serve the remainder of a separate 60-day jail sentence ordered in March by a housing court judge for his failure to make hundreds of repairs at two of his buildings in Washington Heights.

Ohebshalom, who was dressed in a tan jail uniform with his hands cuffed behind his back, declined to answer questions as detectives walked him through the courthouse hallway after the hearing.

Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg is charging Ohebshalom with harassing tenants at his buildings on 331 East 14th St., 410-412 West 46th St., and 705-709 West 170th St. — a rare criminal indictment for an allegedly neglectful landlord.

After Ohebshalom’s arraignment, Bragg described a litany of “horrific” conditions in the apartments, including a waterlogged ceiling that the landlord told a tenant to fix themselves by poking a hole in it, according to prosecutors. Ohebshalom is accused of explicitly describing a strategy of “engineering vacancies” by harassing tenants in emails to his business associates. His defense attorney did not respond to a request for comment.

The charges come after Manhattan Housing Court Judge Jack Stoller ordered Ohebshalom’s arrest for contempt and ruled that the landlord and his associates had failed to correct hundreds of open housing code violations for severe water damage, vermin infestations, collapsed ceilings and other problems.

Assistant DA Chikaelo Ibeabuchi, head of the DA’s Housing and Tenant Protection Unit, said Ohebshalom and four of the limited liability companies he owns had for decades “neglected the buildings with the intended goal of systematically driving out rent-regulated tenants from their homes so he could sell the buildings for a significant profit.”

Ibeabuchi said prosecutors interviewed dozens of past and current tenants who reported a “lack of heat and water in the winter months” as well as “leaks that persisted without repair and ultimately caused the ceilings to collapse, including on a child.”

Ohebshalom was ranked New York City’s “worst landlord” on the public advocate’s most recent annual watch list after racking up hundreds of violations at his buildings in Washington Heights and Chelsea. He lives in California and turned himself in to the city’s sheriff to begin his jail term in late March.

On Friday, a city lawyer requested that Stoller extend Ohebshalom’s sentence by another 60 days or issue a unique order to force him to live in one of his own dilapidated buildings as a form of house arrest.

City attorney Michael Paul Gdanski wrote in a court filing that Ohebshalom still hadn’t fixed nearly 400 open violations and that the heat and hot water had gone out in one of the buildings earlier this spring. House arrest “would ensure that there is a responsible person with decision-making authority … present at the buildings to direct and arrange for repairs,” he added.

Ohebshalom’s attorneys declined to comment on the city’s motion or the civil cases.

In a court petition, they asked that Ohebshalom be released from the Rikers Island jails for safety reasons, saying another detainee punched him in the face and broke his eye socket within hours of his arrival.

“It is apparent that Rikers is an unreasonably dangerous setting for [Ohebshalom], where he remains at high risk for additional physical assault, or worse,” they wrote.

Two tenants at 709 West 170th St. said they testified about their experiences to a Manhattan grand jury within the past few weeks and were pleased to learn of the criminal indictment.

“We didn’t have heat, hot water, and there was a lot of things going on in the building that were unsafe and unsanitary,” said Loyda Irizarry, a retired teacher who has lived in her third-floor apartment for 25 years. “He deserves it. We’ve suffered a lot.”

Irizarry said Ohebshalom and his associates recently hired contractors to make some repairs, but they seemed to be painting over water-damaged walls instead of making deeper fixes. “It’s like using makeup to cover up a pimple,” she said.

Her neighbor Gilbert Butcher, who lives on the building’s fourth floor, said he wanted Ohebshalom to stay in jail until the repairs are made. He said an outcome where his landlord was put under house arrest in one of his own properties would be more powerful in the colder months.

“The time for him to live in his own building is in the wintertime, when we have no heat or hot water,” Butcher said. “I would love him to experience that.”

He added that the building’s deteriorating conditions worsened during the pandemic but have persisted for the past two decades. “We’ve been dealing with this for a long, long, long time,” Butcher said.

Tenants at Ohebshalom’s Washington Heights properties are working with attorneys from the organization Manhattan Legal Services to fight for emergency repairs. Their lawyer, Michael Torres, said he hoped the city would take control of the building or transfer it to a group that would make it habitable for residents.

“If Ohebshalom isn’t going to do that, then give the building to someone who will,” he said.

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