While 2020 was a turbulent year for New York City, things have largely stayed the same for the city’s biggest rental landlords.
Policy changes in 2019 left New York’s multifamily players reeling, but the rental apartment sector experienced remarkably little distress compared to other sectors, like office or retail — something that industry experts had predicted at the start of the pandemic.
“Read my lips: You are not going to see distress in multifamily,” Lightstone Group CEO David Lichtenstein said during a virtual panel in April.
Overall, rent collections have stayed strong despite record unemployment numbers. Although the vacancy rate has risen precipitously, landlords are counting on urban dwellers to flock back to the city whenever the pandemic winds to a close.
And while the coronavirus crisis is front of mind now, the effects of the 2019 rent law may outlast it. As potential buyers and long-time owners parse out the rules, the details of which are winding through the courts, it may be a long time before multifamily values reset in New York City. That means fewer large portfolio trades in the short-term, and fewer changes to who tops the largest rental landlord list.
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.
Here are 2020’s largest rental apartment owners.
1. Blackstone Group
The asset manager, led by CEO Stephen Schwarzman and president and COO Jonathan Gray, still reigns as New York City’s largest rental landlord, with 13,361 units across 76 buildings. That’s thanks to one, enormous asset: Stuyvesant Town, which has 11,250 apartments over 80 acres on Manhattan’s East Side.
Blackstone purchased the complex with Ivanhoé Cambridge for $5.3 billion in 2015, and as part of the deal, it agreed to keep thousands of apartments under rental and income restrictions. In return, it received $144 million to offset transfer taxes, $77 million in mortgage-tax waivers and the ability to sell air rights for the complex.
But earlier this year, the Stuy Town tenant association sued Blackstone to block deregulation and rent increases at some units not covered by the regulatory agreement with the city.
The ongoing litigation may have larger implications for landlords with units under J-51, a state program that provides a tax benefit to property owners for who carry out renovations.
2. The LeFrak Organization
The LeFrak family’s firm moved up one slot in the ranking this year, but its holdings stayed the same, with 12,111 apartments across 85 buildings. Its largest property is LeFrak City, a 4,605-unit development in Corona, Queens, which was built in the 1960s for middle class families.
In recent years, the firm has shifted its focus to office properties and luxury development on the New Jersey waterfront.
LeFrak is currently developing a 10-story mixed-use building between Newport and Downtown in Jersey City, which the municipality’s planning board unanimously approved earlier this month. The property will have 108 apartments.
3. Cammeby’s International Group
For years, this real estate investment company occupied the No. 2 spot on the list of NYC’s largest landlords. But in 2020, its total portfolio dwindled to 10,554 units across 229 buildings.
Three investors — LIHC Investment Group, Belveron Partners and Camber Property Group — bought 1,275 units across eight of the firm’s buildings in the Bronx. The apartments were built in the 1970s under the Mitchell-Lama program and renovated in 2014.
While it owns fewer units than Blackstone or LeFrak, Cammeby’s still has the most buildings of any rental landlord in New York City.
4. A&E Real Estate Holdings
The multifamily firm, led by Douglas Eisenberg, maintained its No. 4 position in this year’s ranking, with 10,188 units across 206 buildings. A&E’s portfolio includes properties in Brooklyn, Queens and Manhattan with a high concentration of rent-stabilized units.
Despite a sluggish multifamily market overall, A&E picked up 126 units when it acquired 400 East 58th Street in October from publicly traded real estate investment trust SL Green. The 16-story building also includes 4,200 square feet of retail.
5. The Related Companies
Related increased its total unit count to 9,152 apartments across 87 buildings, cementing its place as the fifth largest rental landlord in New York City.
The megadeveloper added to its residential holdings when 341 units at 460 Main Street on Roosevelt Island came online. The 21-story mixed-use building is permanently affordable, and is the eighth of nine planned buildings that Related and its partner Hudson Companies are developing on the island.
Related also increased its bets on lower-income housing, which has performed reliably throughout the pandemic. The firm bought two Section 8 buildings on the Lower East Side in November from CIM Group and L+M Development Partners for $435 million, increasing its unit count by 101.
But it also shed some assets: The company sold its One Union Square development to Argentinian firm Raghsa in November for $211 million. Related developed the 27-story, 174,000-square-foot building in 1998 — and the sale was one of the largest multifamily transactions since the start of the pandemic.