Rent overcharge case targets “The Jeffersons” tower

First J-51 case since New York’s highest court limited damages

New York /
Aug.August 03, 2020 06:17 PM
185 East 85th Street (Google Maps)

185 East 85th Street (Google Maps)

The Upper East Side tower that famously housed a TV family’s “de-luxe apartment in the sky” now faces sky-high damages from a class-action lawsuit.

Tenants allege that the owners of the Park Lane, the rental building featured in the 1970s sitcom “The Jeffersons,” charged as many as 100 current and former tenants market-rate rents while receiving a tax benefit.

The lawsuit names the owner entity of the 430-unit tower, which property records show is linked to an executive at investment firm Centerbridge. The executive, Lance West, also served as CEO of the property’s management company, Charles H. Greenthal & Co.

A representative for Centerbridge, which manages $25 billion in assets, declined to comment. Charles H. Greenthal & Co. did not immediately return a request for comment.

The plaintiffs seek $250,000 in legal fees plus damages equal to the alleged rent overcharges, meaning the difference between the actual rent and what was allowed under rent stabilization while the building received a property-tax break under the J-51 program.

Rents at the 35-story Yorkville tower have been movin’ on up since 1975, when the fictional George and Louise Jefferson moved in from Archie Bunker’s neighborhood in Astoria. Units are now about $4,000 a month, according to StreetEasy.

The attorney representing the plaintiffs, Lucas Ferrara, an adjunct professor at New York Law School and a partner at Newman Ferrara, said the tenants are “finally going to be getting a piece of the pie,” referencing the once-popular sitcom’s theme song.

“While it is premature to offer precise rent-rollback calculations, damages are likely to be quite significant given the rents that were wrongfully charged,” said Ferrara.

Tenant attorneys filed a slew of rent-overcharge lawsuits after last year’s new rent law increased the look-back period for determining overcharges and enlarged the monetary damages tenants could win in such cases.

In April the state’s highest court ruled that the law had overreached on the look-back provision, but a previous ruling still requires landlords to offer rent-stabilized leases while receiving J-51 benefits.

Ferrara said the case against 185 East 85th Street is the first class-action rent overcharge lawsuit brought since the April ruling. That Court of Appeals decision limited the new overcharge formula to cases brought after the bill passed in June 2019 — a rare bit of recent good news for multifamily landlords.


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