You may remember this story from February’s headlines concerning the Robinson-Torain family in Crown Heights, but we hate to leave a story hanging, and so decided to do an update. This is a story of deed theft of the worst kind, by a landlord of the worst kind – Menachem Gurevitch, and one of his multiple LLCs, Mandy Management.
Ida Robinson is 98 years old, and has been battling COVID-19 in the hospital. Whether she would ever see her home of more than 70 years at 964 Park Place again, was yet to be determined. But one thing is sure; it’s not for a lack of fighting for it.
The first Black family in Crown Heights back in 1951, she and her family are no strangers to adversity. Her daughter, Queen Afua Helen Robinson, was born in this house, as was her daughter, Sherease Torain-Robinson. The home was bought in 1968, after renting it for 17 years first. Ida paid off the debt in 1991, after losing her husband ten years prior.
But the 2000s brought financial struggles, and she was offered a home equity line of credit for $200,000, then a refinance, with a total amount of $455,000 in brand new debt. The family got behind on the payments and eventually received a letter of default. A financial advisor, a broker, and an LLC came to talk to Ida, and ultimately, Menachem Gurevitch. Gurevitch promised to help her refinance, but in reality, the family said he transferred the deed to himself. That was in 2015.
What Happened Next
I won’t go over all the dastardly deeds of the landlord again, but I will cover a couple of things I didn’t mention in the first one. Gurevitch had one of his many LLCs, Mandy Management, handling the property, where he had tried unsuccessfully to collect rent from the Robinsons since he took over the home in 2015. On February 8th of this year, he obtained a warrant to evict and waited until Sherease Torain-Robinson was in the hospital to change the locks.
When Sherease and her family realized the locks had been changed, they broke back into the home with the help and support of neighbors and friends. For 18 days, they protested by day and slept in shifts on the Robinson’s stoop by night, trying to keep the landlords out. But they were relentless, even attempting to break in through the roof! The last we heard, they were waiting for the court date.
What Happened Since
Finally, the Crown Heights family had their first day in court, with a little help from the community and leaders like Chi Osse and Letitia James, who widely supported their cause. In housing court, Judge Jack Stoller paused the eviction process and restored possession to the Robinsons, giving the family the right to stay in the house for the moment – until the whole situation can be sorted out. The situation with the deed and how the whole thing happened is a mess.
The lawyer for the Robinsons, thanks to the intervention of community leader Letitia James, is Adam Birnbaum, who is trying to untangle the mess. In addition to the 2nd refinance loan being given by a subprime lender in 2007, the Robinsons are likely victims of yet another scam involving deed theft. But in order to have the chance to prove it, they must first leverage state tenant protections in place due to the eviction moratorium.
I commend the @CHTenantUnion for their tireless, monthslong organizing, and thank the Attorney General @TishJames for her partnership. The first Black Family on this Brooklyn block, three generations later, can continue to stand their ground. 2/2 pic.twitter.com/ur42w4FNOg
— Chi Ossé (@OsseChi) February 28, 2022
In the meantime, Birnbaum says he will file a restraining order to block any eviction process until the bigger case is decided. Additionally, he described the common scam. Landlords who want to fool homeowners (who he says are almost always Black and elderly) into signing over their houses, will typically set up an LLC just for the transaction of focus. Then, they draw up papers that characterize the transaction as a refinance, when really it’s a transfer of the title to the LLC. Then, to complicate the trail, the LLC immediately sells it to a second and sometimes a third owner.
Court documents show that the 2015 agreement was a sale of the house for $800,000 to an LLC with the provision they would continue to rent the house for $5,500 a month and have the option to buy the house back after 2 years for $1.4 million. But if the family fell behind in rent, the new owner had the right to evict them. However, even though the Robinsons were guaranteed first right of purchase, the home was sold to another LLC within days, and then transferred ownership to the current owner on record; Menachem Gurevitch.
Furthermore, Ida Robinson has always said she never sold her house, and was told she was refinancing. She also never received any check for $800K, or any money for the house whatsoever, in that so-called agreement. The Robinsons stopped paying rent after 6 months and things have been tangled up in court ever since. Not to mention the fact that Menachem Gurevitch is not well known for his stellar landlord qualities. The case has all the earmarks of the scam described, and Birnbaum says the family has a legitimate claim which he will take to the Supreme Court. Hopefully, the next update will be on how this case ultimately turns out.
Rochelle Harris is a passionate writer originally from Phoenix, AZ. who credits her success to integrity and determination. She has a great sense of humor, loves music and her family, and writes fiction and poetry in her spare time. She is excited about the New York experience and lifestyle! Follow Rochelle on Twitter at @LinguisticAnRky or get in touch at [email protected]