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Landlords Offer to Trade Jail for Buildings

June 16, 1987

NEW YORK (AP) _ Members of two families who face possible prison terms Wednesday for abusing tenants in three upper West Side buildings they own have offered to give the buildings to the homeless to stay out of jail.

Members of the Podolsky and Roitman families pleaded guilty last year to using extortion, coercion and burglary to force tenants out of three buildings they own jointly on the West Side of Manhattan.

Zenek Podolsky, his sons Stuart and Jay, and George Roitman and his son Jack face up to three years in prison when they are sentenced Wednesday by state Supreme Court Justice Harold Rothwax.

Their lawyers have told Rothwax they will surrender the buildings on West 77th Street in lieu of jail terms. The buildings are said to be worth between $2 and $3 million.

The district attorney has recommended jail terms; Rothwax has not indicated how he regards the defendants’ offer.

The proposal has divided those who work for tenants’ rights and the homeless.

The offer of three buildings ″seems pretty puny,″ said Harriet Cohen of the Community Service Society, a tenant advocate. But the Coalition for the Homeless, which would manage the buildings under the defendants’ proposal, supports the deal.

Robert Hayes, the coalition’s chief lawyer, has said ″it is a question of weighing the social good of putting them in jail to deter others from acting badly ... against taking the concrete good of giving 40 homeless people permanent housing. It seemed worth it.″

After the Roitmans and Podolskys bought the buildings in 1983 they hired two men with a reputation for tenant harassment, according to court papers.

Prosecutors claimed drug addicts and prostitutes were invited into the building, and that heat, electricity and hot water were withheld. A 72-year- old woman died of pneumonia in her freezing apartment, and another tenant hanged himself. Many others moved away.

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