The Real Deal New York

Open season on landlords

Reaction to deadly attacks highlights lack of sympathy for landlords in some circles
By Stuart Elliott | March 01, 2014 07:00AM
Stuart Elliott

Stuart Elliott

It appears to be open season on landlords. Since the beginning of the year there have been three high-profile murders (or attempted murders) of building owners in the New York area.

The first was Menachem Stark, the Hasidic developer from Williamsburg whose burned corpse was found in a dumpster after he was abducted from his office in January.

Police are still trying to figure out who killed the 39-year-old father of seven, but suspect it may have to do with his real estate dealings.

In this issue, we look at Stark’s holdings, zeroing in on the dozens of properties he acquired in the run-up during the boom (see “Menachem Stark’s portfolio revealed”).

Our story paints a picture of a small-time investor, who, along with partner Israel Perlmutter, may have gotten in over his head during the loose lending of the last decade.

Thanks to scoring a few key loans, they amassed 37 properties throughout the borough. But they later became victims of the downturn, facing foreclosure lawsuits starting in 2009, and finally, after a four-year-selling spree, losing control of all but eight of their properties.

While the downturn wasn’t directly responsible for Stark’s murder, it may have set the stage for soured relationships and deals gone bad.

Meanwhile, less than a week after Stark’s murder, Ditmas Park landlord Mahuddin Mahmud was murdered by one of his tenants. Mahmud was found with his throat slit and face burned because the 57-year-old landlord had “humiliated and teased” the tenant for being poor, police sources said. The 27-year-old tenant was nabbed trying to board a plane at JFK Airport.

Finally, in another grisly scene, prominent developer and Long Island political powerbroker Gary Melius was shot in the head at point-blank range last month by a masked gunman. Incredibly, the 69-year-old developer survived because the bullet hit him in the forehead but didn’t pierce his skull. The shooting occurred outside his posh Oheka Castle, an opulent château featured in the classic movie “Citizen Kane,” which serves as an event space and home to Melius’s famous poker games. Police suspect that the shooting may be related to an earlier political scandal on Long Island.

While no one is suggesting there is a link between these attacks, it does highlight the fact that there is a distinct lack of sympathy for landlords in some circles. Perhaps that’s not surprising given the public perception of landlords, and the strength of tenant advocacy in a renter-dominated city.

As we reported on our website, the city’s tabloids had a field day with Stark’s murder. The New York Post ran a front-page story under the headline, “Who didn’t want him dead?” that chronicled a long list of Stark’s alleged enemies. Meanwhile, an op-ed titled “Death of a ‘Slumlord’ a Teaching Moment” that chronicled Stark’s numerous failings as a landlord was published on the website the Jewish Press, but was removed shortly after publication. The coverage ties into a long history of negative portrayals of landlords. One of my favorites was the network drama “666 Park Avenue,” which aired a few years ago, where the landlord was literally the devil incarnate (not just metaphorically the devil).

If you want to find an exception to this stereotype, though, you don’t have to look farther than developer André Balazs, who we also profile in this issue.

Balazs, who has made some big moves of late in unloading his Standard High Line hotel and embarking on new hospitality ventures in London, is one of the classiest developers in the city. Like Ian Schrager or Aby Rosen, he seems to care about the bottom line and quality in equal measure, which is instantly evident in the cutting-edge style of his projects. See our profile, “André the giant.”

Meanwhile, back on the blood-sport front, we delve into the dispute at Town Residential, the city’s fast-growing brokerage. Firm founder Andrew Heiberger and investment partner Joe Sitt are locked in a dramatic court battle for control of the firm. As The Real Deal was going to press, Heiberger had just won a temporary restraining order to prevent Sitt from locking him out of the firm. Check out the story, “Kicked out of Town?”

And last but definitely not least, check out our cover package on social media by reporter Hiten Samtani. There’s tons of good information about how social media went from a faddish afterthought for real estate brokerages a few years ago to a central part of their businesses today.

Enjoy the issue!