Chetrit was born to a Jewish family in Morocco to Simon and Alice Chetrit. He has four brothers: David, Meyer, Jacob and Juda Chetrit. The Chetrit family made their initial fortune in textiles and shipping. In 1996, his father and his brother David were arrested and jailed in Morocco for smuggling and were cited as an example of injustice by the U.S. State Department in their annual human rights report. They were pardoned and released in 1998.
Chetrit arrived in the United States initially tasked with furthering the family's textile business working as an importer/exporter. After pleading guilty to one felony count of violating customs laws in 1990 (and being sentenced to three years’ probation), he turned to real estate assembling a portfolio of outer-borough residential properties which he sold for $70 million in the early 1990s. In 1994, he entered into his first commercial real estate transaction, purchasing an office building on West 44th Street for $13 million. In 2002, he partnered with Brooklyn-based Simon Dushinsky's Rabsky Group to develop a portfolio of properties he purchased out of bankruptcy in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. In 2004, Chetrit was the lead investor in a group that purchased the 110-story Sears Tower in Chicago for $840 million with partners Joseph Moinian, and Israel Gluck, eventually changing the name to the Willis Tower in 2009.
Other purchases include Park West Village on the Upper West Side, the International Toy Center on Madison Square Park, 500 and 512 Seventh Ave. in the Garment District, and the Caledonian Hospital complex in Sunset Park, Brooklyn. In 2009, Chetrit purchased a portion of the real estate portfolio of prolific Brooklyn real estate developer Isaac Hager who declared bankruptcy.
In 2011, after a disagreement, the Chetrit brothers divided the family business into two entities with Joseph and Meyer operating under the Chetrit Group; and Jacob and Juda under the Chetrit Organization. Also in 2011, partnering with David Bistricer, he purchased the Chelsea Hotel for $80 million; they sold their interest in 2013.
In 2013, he and his partner David Bistricer, purchased the Sony Tower in New York City for $1.1 billion with plans to convert the building into condominiums. In 2016, they halted the project due to fears of an over-supply of luxury housing; instead selling the building for $1.4B+ to the Olayan Group of Saudi Arabia. Additional projects include the renovation of 5 Beekman Street with Charles Dayan; and the $290 million 2005 purchase along with partners Charles Dayan and Yair Levy of the 800,000 square foot historic 620 5th Avenue and its 2011 sale to RXR Realty, LLC for $500 million;
As an investor who made his primary wealth from buying low in a downturn and selling high later, Chetrit's strategy has been market timing rather than development. He typically selects structures with flexible zoning (which broadens the pool of future purchasers) in areas seeing a downturn and thanks to his minimal use of debt, he has the ability to wait the market out. At times this approach creates conflict with local businesses who want immediate change.
- Tom Acitelli, "Joseph Chetrit, the Most Mysterious Big Shot in New York Real Estate", observer.com, July 5, 2011.
- Jeanette Friedman, "Shul within a shul – Sephardic Center dedicated at Ahavath Torah", jstandard.com, April 15, 2011.
- Chetrit brothers split up, therealdeal.com, June 29, 2012.
- Josh Nathan-Kazis, "Chelsea Hotel Braces for New Owners - Real Estate Moguls Signal Big Changes at the Famed Bohemian Haunt", forward.com, August 11, 2011.
- Mark Maurer, The Real Deal: "The Rabsky riddle - Firm head Simon Dushinsky is building more Brooklyn apartments than almost anyone, but public sightings are still rare", therealdeal.com, May 1, 2015.
- Dana Rubinstein, "Condo Project Comes Alive", wsj.com, April 25, 2011.
- Mairer, Mark; Small, Eddie (May 1, 2018). "Isaac Hager's higher power - The developer is gaining outer borough market share, despite a trail of foreclosures and lawsuits from his early real estate days". The Real Deal.
- Candace Taylor, "Chetrits deny split", thefreelibrary.com, September 1, 2011.
- Craig Carmin, "Hotel Chelsea's New Proprietor", Wall Street Journal, May 16, 2011.
- Corey Kilgannon, "First, No More Guests; Now, Chelsea Hotel Says No More Art", nytimes.com, November 4, 2011
- Hana Alberts, "Joseph Chetrit Sues Hotel Chelsea's Former Owners for $4.15M", curbed.com, March 12, 2013.
- "King & Grove reneges on Hotel Chelsea eviction vow: Tenants", therealdeal.com, September 17, 2013.
- Daniel Geiger, "How did this man buy that building? - Joseph Chetrit grabs Sony Building with $1.1B offer", Crain's New York, January 27, 2013.
- C. J. Hughes,New York Times: "Sony Wants Pizzeria Out of Building in Midtown", nytimes.com, August 13, 2013.
- New York Times: "Plan to Turn Sony Building Into Luxury Apartments Is Abandoned" By CHARLES V. BAGLI APRIL 29, 2016
- Josh Barbanel, "Hopes Rise for Landmark", Wall Street Journal, June 18, 2010.
- "Jacob Chetrit sues partner at foreclosed 5 Beekman Street", cityrealty.com, August 20, 2010.
- "RXR acquires 620 Sixth in deal that values building at $500M", therealdeal.com, September 19, 2011.
- Anna Scott, "To Have and to Hold, and Hold and Hold and Hold", ladowntownnews.com, February 12, 2010.