The Real Deal New York

Rent-controlled tenant holding up Triangle Assets’ ODA-designed tower

One resident has refused to leave
By Kathryn Brenzel | July 07, 2017 07:00AM

Rendering of 303-305 East 44th Street (Credit ODA New York) and the two existing buildings

One rent-controlled tenant stands between Triangle Assets and the unorthodox condo tower it plans to build at 303-305 East 44th Street.

The tenant has refused to leave the existing four-story apartment building at 305 East 44th Street, which needs to be demolished before Triangle can move forward with its proposed 41-story tower. The developer has already bought out the building’s 15 other tenants but hasn’t yet been able to cut a deal with this tenant.

The project has drawn a lot of attention, due in large part to its design. The latest renderings for the ODA New York-designed tower show 11 full-floor outdoor gardens that make the building appear as if it’s being pulled apart. The gardens create 16-foot gaps between the floors, which are supported by smooth concrete columns — a look that the architect once likened to chewing gum or glue.

In January 2015, the developer filed an application with the New York State Division of Housing and Community Renewal seeking approval to evict the tenant. Last year, Triangle’s attorney, Adam Leitman Bailey, wrote a letter to the Department of Buildings, stating that despite attempts to “reasonably work out a relocation of the tenant,” she demanded millions of dollars in exchange for leaving her apartment. On Wednesday, Leitman wouldn’t specify where negotiations stood but said that the state has expedited his client’s application. Typically, the process can take years to complete.

The tenant either will need to take a buyout or wait for the state’s decision. If the state ultimately sides with the developer, the tenant will receive a small stipend — $143,000 — and be forced to leave the building. However, the tenant has the option to appeal the decision in State Supreme Court.

“It’s a long, drawn-out process,” said Alan Goldberg, an attorney with Goldberg, Scudieri & Lindenberg, who is not involved in this case. “It’s in everyone’s best interest to come to a settlement.”

As of January 2015, two tenants — Aimee Miranda and Grace Polk — remained in the building. A number listed for Miranda at the building was disconnected while Polk didn’t return messages seeking comment. No one answered the door at the third-story apartments listed for Miranda and Polk on Thursday.

Developers can de-regulate apartments by showing the state that they intend to demolish the existing building, have DOB-approved plans and have the resources to construct a new building. Demolition eviction can also be used to remove rent-stabilized tenants if a buyout agreement can’t be reached. It’s a strategy that may prove increasingly appealing to landlords as state and city officials push for stricter tenant harassment laws.

It can sometimes pay off to hold out and be the last tenant standing in a building that the owner wants to demolish. One of the more extreme buyouts occurred in 2005 when Arthur and William Zeckendorf paid long-time tenant Herbert Sukenik $17 million to leave the Mayflower Hotel to make way for 15 Central Park West. The 73-year-old recluse also received a virtually free ($1 per month) apartment at Essex House on Central Park South.

Bailey indicated that the tenant at 44th Street was offered “a lot more than $143,000” but wouldn’t specify how much. Triangle bought the site in 2008 for $10.1 million.