Incoming housing minister reportedly split Jerusalem apartment into 5 without permit

Newspaper says United Torah Judaism’s Yitzchak Goldknopf is still registered as having some property rights at building in capital, though he claims to have transferred ownership

United Torah Judaism chairman MK Rabbi Yitzchak Goldknopf in the Knesset, in Jerusalem, on December 13, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
United Torah Judaism chairman MK Rabbi Yitzchak Goldknopf in the Knesset, in Jerusalem, on December 13, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

United Torah Judaism party leader Yitzchak Goldknopf, who is expected to take up the position of housing minister in the incoming coalition, owns a property in Jerusalem that was divided into five separate apartments without the required permit, according to Wednesday reports.

Goldknopf responded by denying he still has rights to the property and blamed bureaucratic errors for indicating he still owns it, but did not provide paperwork to show it had been transferred to anyone else.

The UTJ chief, whose ultra-Orthodox faction is part of the right-religious bloc led by prime minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu, is in the real estate business and reportedly owns several properties in the capital.

These are said to include an apartment in a building on Avraham Talmodi Street in Jerusalem’s Bukharim neighborhood. According to the Haaretz daily, records show Goldknopf bought the apartment in 2013 for NIS 2.6 million ($750,000) and the account for municipal property taxes is still listed in the name of his wife, Rivka.

However, the newspaper said the 135-square-meter home — which has two floors and an attic area — has since been split into five separate apartments, each with its own front door, all located within the original premises. Municipal property tax bills for the original apartment are regularly paid and the lawmaker’s name also reportedly shows up in other documents stating his property rights.

The report said said that no request was submitted to municipal authorities to divide the apartment into smaller units. Though records show there was some municipal enforcement — which the daily did not specify — carried out in the building, it was not against Goldknopf.

Dividing an apartment into smaller units without a proper permit is a property offense.

Likud party chairman Benjamin Netanyahu, right, shakes hands with United Torah Judaism party leader Yitzchak Goldknopf in the Knesset plenum on November 21, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

A statement on the UTJ leader’s behalf to Haaretz said the property “is not registered in Rabbi Goldknopf’s name” and that his rights to the property were “transferred and duly reported.”

The statement claimed that “for technical and record reasons” his name has not been removed from the registry, without elaborating.

It said this likely caused an “oversight” by Haaretz and called the newspaper’s accusation that Goldknopf had committed a property offense “troublesome.”

The paper said it asked to see documents showing that rights to the apartment were transferred to someone else and that it wasn’t Goldknopf who divided up the site, but no such paperwork was provided.

After again being contacted for response, Goldknopf sent a letter via a lawyer warning of legal action.

The letter stressed the apartment in question “is not owned by our client at all” and said the Goldknopfs moved out in 2021.

“Since then he has not lived in the apartment and transferred his rights in it a long time ago, shortly after his departure,” the letter said, asserting the transfer was reported to tax authorities as required.

“It should be emphasized that during all the times that the apartment was under the control of Rabbi Goldknopf there was no division in it. If and as much as a split was made in the apartment, then it was made afterward,” it added.

Concerning the payment of municipal property tax, the letter said a standing order had been set up to pay the amounts that “continued inadvertently even after the rights were transferred” and “our client gives thanks for drawing his attention to this matter.”

The letter also said that the registration of all the properties in the building was “not regulated, to say the least, and it is possible that because of this, factual errors” were made. The complex “is in the process of regularizing the registration,” it said.

A separate report by Channel 12 news cited people who rent apartments owned by Goldknopf as saying that he is not identified as the owner and that they signed contracts with someone else. An unnamed source told the network that a request for a receipt of rental payments was ignored.

Illustrative: An apartment building undergoing renovations, on October 24, 2018. (Meir Vaaknin/Flash90)

Goldknopf currently lives in another apartment close to the capital’s Mea Shearim neighborhood. He also owns almost all of an entire building on Malachi street, the television report said.

According to the network, Goldknopf’s alleged arrangements for signing contracts with renters and collection of rental fees could raise questions about how much tax he is paying on the dealings.

Earlier this month, Goldknopf suggested that he does not see any housing crisis in the country.

“People are always talking to me about a housing crisis — I don’t know much about the Housing Ministry until now, so I don’t know if there really is a crisis,” Goldknopf said at a conference organized by the Walla news site.

Figures released last week by the Central Bureau of Statistics showed housing prices in October were up 20.3 percent compared to a year earlier, the largest year-on-year increase in recent memory.

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