Amid breathtaking upheaval in the multifamily market’s economics, the ranking of New York City’s five largest rental landlords featured only one change. And four of the five top rental landlords from last year’s rankings either maintained or reduced their rental holdings except for A&E Realty Holdings, which increased its rent-regulated multifamily holdings.
Landlord-crushing reforms to rent regulation were passed in June despite fierce lobbying from several of the biggest property owners in the city. Breaking from normal practice, New York City landlords went to Albany to make their case to lawmakers directly, instead of just writing checks. But even direct appeals to Gov. Andrew Cuomo from some of the largest real estate players — and Cuomo donors — fell on deaf ears.
Building on previous efforts to identify the city’s largest property owners, The Real Deal cross-referenced building registrations from the Department of Housing Preservation and Development with a database that TRD compiled.
The Blackstone Group retained its place atop the list. TF Cornerstone, S.W. Management, Glenwood Management, Columbia University and Stellar Management were the runners-up.
Each of the firms declined to provide statements on their holdings, and because of inconsistencies in naming and idiosyncrasies in databases, their internal unit counts may be greater than these estimates.
Here’s a closer look at New York City’s top five apartment landlords.
1) Blackstone Group
Estimated holdings: 13,361 units across 76 buildings
The private equity firm and Stuyvesant Town landlord maintained its No. 1 spot from last year.
Stuyvesant Town was originally developed by insurance company MetLife as an affordable postwar option for families. To make way for the massive public-private partnership funded in part by New York City, 18 city blocks were razed in the Gas House District.
Blackstone purchased the complex in 2015 for $5.3 billion, with an agreement with the city to preserve affordability in return for attractive financing.
Blackstone complained vociferously about the changes to the rent law enacted in June. The firm said it would halt renovations at Stuy Town because of the limits placed on the costs landlords can pass on to tenants in the form of rent increases.
The new law limits increases for individual apartment improvements and major capital improvements.
Blackstone also made headlines in August for keeping units vacant in Stuy Town — a rent-law response that many other landlords have shared, although there is no data on how widespread the phenomenon may be.
2) Cammeby’s International Group
Estimated holdings: 12,179 units across 240 buildings
Cammeby’s has been in the No. 2 spot for several years, although it has by far the largest number of buildings of any of the New York City rental landlords.
It’s no wonder, then, that Cammeby’s was one of a trio of multifamily landlords that lobbied Albany to moderate the rent reforms ahead of the changes.
The firm’s holdings are mostly in South Brooklyn and Queens — including the massive Trump Village complex in southern Brooklyn, which was developed by Fred Trump, the president’s father.
Cammeby’s, like some other multifamily players, is increasingly looking outside of the five boroughs for multifamily investments. In September, the firm purchased an 1,100-unit multifamily portfolio in northern New Jersey for $173 million.
Cammeby’s also recently scored a refinancing on a sprawling Queens apartment portfolio, which includes a nearly $190 million multifamily mortgage. The Capital One loan covers hundreds of low-rise buildings and a vacant plot of land stretched across eight tax lots surrounding the Long Island Expressway.
3) LeFrak Organization
Estimated holdings: 12,111 units across 85 buildings
The crown jewel of the LeFrak Organization’s portfolio is its gigantic 4,600-unit, 40-acre Queens apartment complex, LeFrak City, built in 1959 by CEO Richard LeFrak’s father, Samuel LeFrak.
The buildings, each named for a country, feature light-filled lobbies and wide bays for cars — a suburban vision of affordable market-rate apartments in Corona.
In June, LeFrak was one of a trio of big-donor developers who urged Gov. Andrew Cuomo to intercede on the eve the new rent law’s passage. LeFrak, William Rudin and Douglas Durst all phoned the governor, who reportedly responded that the developers should instead call their local legislators.
With the changes to New York’s rent law, LeFrak may be glad it has more than just rent-regulated New York buildings. Across the Hudson River in New Jersey, LeFrak also has luxury rentals and office buildings, although the firm has been divesting of some of its office properties lately.
4) A&E Real Estate Holdings
Estimated holdings: 10,062 units across 205 buildings
A&E is one of the few landlords in the city still making plays in the rent-stabilized multifamily market.
Moving up from fifth place, A&E had a quiet beginning of the year, spending time in Albany lobbying the legislature to consider an alternative rent plan ahead of the changes. Despite a sluggish multifamily market, the firm made a bold play in November.
The only large multifamily transaction since June, A&E’s purchase of the 18-building, 539-unit Rego Park portfolio from the Kestenbaum family sparked a lively discussion in the industry. Observers said the price — 38 percent below the original asking price — reflected a devaluation of the multifamily market in the aftermath of the changes to New York’s rent law.
At least one insider said the amount A&E paid was still too high, and others expect values to continue to fall. Business plans that depended on the ability to profit from renovations and other ways to raise rents were undermined.
The purchase was the only one A&E made in 2019 — after a spate of acquisitions in 2018 that catapulted the firm into the top five.
5) Related Companies
Estimated holdings: 9,051 units across 87 buildings
But the developer is also one of the city’s largest rental landlords — although Related fell from the fourth to the fifth spot in TRD’s ranking. It was the lone landlord in the top five to reduce its number of rental units.
In April, Related’s $88 million sale of two 10-story multifamily buildings to Abraham Fruchthandler broke a six-year record for multifamily sales in the Bronx. It was the largest single-asset multifamily transaction since Omni New York bought a former Mitchell-Lama complex in 2012 for $37 million.
In July, Related let go of another 252-unit multifamily complex in the Bronx. The buyer, San Francisco-based multifamily investment firm Prana, paid $36 million for the property, which is covered by a 25-year 421a tax exemption.
Related did not return requests for comment. Blackstone did not comment. Reached by phone, A&E, Cammeby’s and Lefrak declined to comment.