The Real Deal New York

Landlord claims Loft Law tenants got special provision from Albany

September 13, 2012 06:00PM
By Adam Pincus

544 West 27th Street (credit: PropertyShark) and Assemblyman Vito Lopez

The owner of a Chelsea loft building is claiming that two long-time tenants won a special provision that altered the 30-year old Loft Law to their benefit and allowed them to remain in their homes, despite a 2009 ruling that they had to go.

Without the provision in a 2010 state law sponsored by Assemblyman Vito Lopez, the two, fourth-floor renters, Marie Nazor and Peter Mickle, would likely have been evicted from their respective apartments at 544 West 27th Street, between 10th and 11th avenues.

The landlord of the building, Mushlam, Inc., filed suit in New York State Supreme Court Sept. 10, claiming the special provision was a violation of state and federal Constitutions, and should be struck down. Mushlam, whose president is Simon Milul, named the State of New York, the city’s Loft Board, Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, as well as the tenants Nazor and Mickle as defendants, the complaint says.

The complaint challenges a narrowly drawn provision to the Loft Law, sponsored in the Assembly by the powerful Brooklyn legislator Vito Lopez who has been ensnared in a growing scandal alleging he sexually harassed employees, and in the Senate by Martin Dilan.

The 1982 Loft Law was enacted to legalize the widespread use by residential tenants living in commercial and manufacturing buildings, and dubbed the hundreds of properties “interim multiple dwellings” (IMDs). The law has been amended over the years, and on June 21, 2010, Governor David Paterson signed a new provision that expanded the definition of an IMD to include a building in which three or more families lived independently of one another for one entire year at any point between Jan. 1, 2008 and Dec. 31, 2009.

Then less than two weeks later, the governor signed an amendment to the law that created a special area between 24th and 27th streets and 10th and 11th avenues. Within that region, a building would be included as an IMD if there were only two separate families, and not the three required in the rest of the city. The suit alleges Milul’s buliding is the only one that would be impacted by the law.

According to the complaint, in November 2007, the landlord gave Nazor, who had lived in the building since 1983, and Mickle, whose arrival date is not specified, notice that he wanted them out. They refused, and so he filed a suit in January 2008 to evict them, and in December 2009, a judge said they had to go. They continued to battle in court, and then after the new carve out was passed in July 2010, they filed new papers supporting their right to stay.

The law seeks “to convert a structure with only two residential units solely to benefit the individual tenant-defendants, tenants of the only one building in the only one unit in the entire city of New York which would possibly qualify,” the complaint says.

Terrence Oved, a partner with law firm Oved & Oved, who was not involved in the litigation, said it was not unusual for a law to change an element like the number of families needed to define an IMD, but he added, “the particularly narrow scope of the carve out area — as such term is defined in the complaint — does raise a red flag.”

Milul’s attorney Nativ Winiarsky, said the special provision was illegal.

“The Legislature is going to have to answer the question of why differentiate the building in question from every other area and building throughout the entire city of New York,” Winiarsky told The Real Deal. He is a partner at Kucker & Bruh, which along with the law firm Belkin Burden Wenig & Goldman, is representing the landlord. “It’s a question that I do not think many people are going to want or be able, to answer.”

Representatives for the state and the tenants did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Schneiderman’s office said it would have no comment. A spokesperson for the city’s Law Department said, “We recently received the lawsuit and are reviewing the claims.”

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