Lawsuits of the filthy rich: A classic and ugly NYC real estate mess

Just when I thought landlords of rental buildings had learned their lesson. Or had developed a smidgeon of conscience.

Well, actually, I guess I never thought that, because if a landlord owns a pricey piece of NYC real estate and wants to maximize his investment, he’s going to do dirty things to eliminate his long-time, low-rent tenants.

So this story, from the Times, about a Park Avenue rental building the owners of which — one of whom is the fairly notorious Harry Macklowe — are converting it to condos, reminded me of how rotten rich creatures can be. This particular creature is suing some of his elderly, long-time tenants with any excuse he can find. And since the Rule of Suing is that anybody can sue anybody for anything at any time, he’s availing himself of the nastiest aspect of the Rule: if you’re rich, you can file specious lawsuits against people who are not that rich and who therefore have to come up with the money to fight you in court, even when the lawsuit they’re forced to fight has little substance.

That is, the rich guy can send his lawyers to court endlessly. The less rich guy he’s suing will, rich guy assumes, fold, and settle. And move out.

This particular story in the Times illustrates all of the above and is sickening. It begins:

On first blush, it looks like Carol Cohen, a top residential broker in Manhattan who has counted the fashion designer Vera Wang and the publishing scion Lachlan Murdoch as clients, has a great setup. She lives with her husband in a sprawling two-bedroom apartment on a prime block on Park Avenue, for which she pays about $3,000 a month in rent, far less than the $9,500 a month a nearby two-bedroom on Park Avenue costs.

But her building, 737 Park Avenue, is becoming luxury condominiums, with units priced as high as $27 million. And in a fairly transparent attempt to push Ms. Cohen out of her apartment, the developer is suing to have her investigated for tax fraud.

Ms. Cohen is by no means alone in her experience at 737 Park Avenue. Other tenants who have had to battle the developer in court include the grandchildren of the former landlord; a Holocaust survivor; a nonagenarian couple, one of whom suffers from dementia; and a plastic surgeon. The developer has even sued the former landlord, the Katz family, arguing that it did not accurately represent the nature of its leases with many of the tenants.

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