Maurice Mann founded Mann Realty Associates, a property management and residential development company, in 1980. The company employs about 20 individuals and owns and operates 13 Manhattan apartment buildings worth about $250 million. Mann is probably best known for partnering with Lev Leviev’s Africa Israel USA to buy the Apthorp in 2006 for the record-breaking price of $426 million. The two firms planned to convert the storied Upper West Side rental complex to condos, but their business relationship soured. Under pressure from Africa Israel, Mann reluctantly agreed to step down as managing partner. He said he and his partners still own a 50 percent interest in the project, although it is loaded with debt, and the lenders are the official sponsors. Currently, the firm is in the process of converting the rental building 36 Gramercy Park East to condos and is preparing to do the same to 478–480 Central Park West. Mann also sits on the Rent Stabilization Association’s Housing Court Reform Committee and the Small Property Owners of New York’s executive committee.
What’s your full name?
Maurice Mann. Middle initial is A. I never liked my middle name.
What’s your date of birth?
September 5, 1953.
Where did you grow up?
On the Jersey Shore. But I’ve been living in New York City since after graduate school. I spend summers in my home in East Hampton. I try to do my winters at my home in Fort Lauderdale. And I try to get to Paris a couple times a year.
Where do you live now?
I’m at the Laureate [at 2150 Broadway].
Have you ever been married?
No. I’m single.
What were you like as a kid?
Intense. Anal. OCD. Now, because I’ve gotten older, I’m just neurotic. … I used to read a lot when I was younger. … For my bar mitzvah, my father gave me a book called, “How I Turned $1,000 into Five Million in Real Estate in My Spare Time.” I was fascinated with it. Dad had told me it was the greatest business in the world. He went on to explain things like depreciation and financing. I had no clue what he was talking about, but I listened. I recently gave the book to my nephew. I passed it on to him at his bar mitzvah.
What was your father like?
He was an importer and manufacturer of men’s handkerchiefs and ties and hats. He had factories in Switzerland and Italy and Puerto Rico. He was a very humble man. Very good natured, very decent. Very, very honest.
What was your mother like?
My mother was very glamorous. She was Hollywood. And also, my mother was absolutely, without a doubt, one of the 100 greatest cooks.
What was her specialty?
We’re Sephardic. Syrian Jews. So Mediterranean food.
What was the first building you bought?
The first purchase was a building [at 241 Central Park North] I still own today. It’s a small, six-story walk-up with 30 units. It was all I could afford at the time. It was $86,000 with $15,000 down. I bought that in, I think, about 1982.
What’s your worst tenant story?
I was told [that if] tenants were not paying rent, you had to go and collect it. At that time, the upper part of the West Side — 110th Street — was nowhere near as built up as it is today. I went with someone who was basically a rent collector and knocked on the door. [The tenant] took the rent bill and ripped it up into 100 pieces, threw it in my face, slammed the door and said, “I don’t pay rent!” Without going into the details, we legally got that tenant out. It took about two years, but we got her out.
You’re on the Rent Stabilization Association’s Housing Court Reform Committee. What’s wrong with housing court?
It’s very socialistic, some would even say fascist. It’s kind of a dictatorship down there.
What was a particularly bad experience dealing with the housing court system?
I had one case once where the judge adjourned my case [16 or 17 times] for no reason. I filed a formal complaint against [the judge] with the chief administrative judge, who ordered him to close his entire courtroom for one week while I had my trial. There was not one other case that judge heard until I had my trial. I ultimately won, but to have to go through that kind of energy and legal expense to collect $162 [in unpaid rent] — you can see the inequity there.
You haven’t been back to the Apthorp in several years.
It’s a tragedy and a great iconic building that was destroyed by greed. [Africa Israel] threw me under the bus and shot themselves in the foot — that says it all.
How did that project fall apart?
We had received a preliminary condo approval, then Lehman Brothers exploded. Everyone thought the world was coming to an end. I didn’t feel that way, but some of the partners did and asked me voluntarily to step aside and let them take over the management. I stepped aside only to find out within a matter of weeks that none of the contractual, legal obligations that they made were honored. That forced me into litigation with them. In the end, we litigated for a couple of years, and no one got anything — except the lawyers. No one stopped to think intellectually, “What do we do? Do we cancel the condo plan and go back in at a later point and keep the building a rental for a few more years?” They never asked me. A lot of underhandedness, that’s all I’ve got to say about it.
Do you regret getting involved with the Apthorp?
Oh, it’s not what I did, it’s what they did.
Do you regret partnering with them?
Oh, for sure. I regret trusting them and being betrayed.