The Real Deal New York

Tenant at 990 Sixth dodges eviction in test case for commercial tenant harassment law

Schulman, Blitz & Williamson was granted an injunction to continue its tenancy at the Vanbarton-owned building
By Christian Bautista | August 09, 2018 02:30PM

Vanbarton’s Richard Coles and 990 Sixth Avenue (Credit: Google Maps)

A tenant at Vanbarton Group’s 990 Sixth Avenue was able to stave off eviction in a test case for the city’s new commercial tenant harassment law.

Law firm Schulman, Blitz & Williamson was granted an injunction to continue its tenancy at the 25-story residential and office tower, also known as the Vogue Building. The firm sued its landlord in June, claiming that it was being harassed through “unnecessary construction” under the guise of a renovation.

Schulman’s lawsuit was the third case filed against Vanbarton over a two-month period. The company had been negotiating buyouts with the tenants that occupy the building’s four office floors. It struck deals with 10 out of the 14 office tenants in the property, according to the complaint. However, the holdovers have ossified positions, and have taken to court to enforce their leases. The Schulman case followed lawsuits filed by fellow tenants Toho Shoji and Julianna Collection Corporation.

On May 25, Vanbarton served Schulman with a notice to cure, saying that the company was in default of the lease for subletting without landlord consent and failing to maintain necessary insurance coverage. New York Supreme Court Judge Barbara Jaffe ruled that allowing Vanbarton to terminate the lease would have denied Schulman the opportunity to cure the default. The judge ordered Schulman to give Vanbarton its cut of its subtenant’s rent. She also denied Vanbarton’s request to have its legal fees covered by Schulman.

Vanbarton and Schulman are each framing the decision as a victory for their respective sides.

“It appears to have been a close decision for the judge but thankfully justice prevailed,” said Adam Leitman Bailey, the counsel for Schulman.

“We view this a major victory for our client, which is simply seeking to enforce its lease and ensure the safety of the building’s residential and commercial occupants,” Vanbarton Group said in a statement. “The court found that the tenant violated the terms of the lease by subletting without our client’s consent and is requiring the tenant to evict its unapproved subtenant.”

The lawsuit is one of the first cases litigated under the city’s Non-residential Tenant Harassment law, which was signed by Mayor Bill De Blasio in 2016. The law gave courts the power to fine landlords a maximum penalty of $10,000 and allowed tenants to sue for compensatory and punitive damages.

“We are using the commercial tenant harassment act to stop this landlord from acting like savages toward my client,” Bailey said, adding that the he hopes the decision would deter landlords from “raping their premises” to push out tenants.

According to Bailey, the area outside of Schulman’s offices on the building’s fourth floor continues to be in disarray. The complaint contained descriptions of unfinished ceilings and walls and hanging wires.

“When you walk in, it’s a disaster area,” Bailey said. “No one’s going to hire them if their offices look like that.”

Schulman is planning to sue to compel Vanbarton to restore the building’s lobby and hallways, according to Bailey. They are also seeking $15 million in damages.