Extell appeals ruling on oddball Belnord contract

From left: Gary Barnett, the Belnord at 201 West 86th Street
From left: Gary Barnett, the Belnord at 201 West 86th Street

Extell Development has asked an appeals court to reargue a decision in favor of a tenant at the Belnord, a rent-stabilized building on the Upper West Side, which invalidated an unusual agreement between the owner and dozens of residents.

A five-judge panel in the state Appellate Division ruled in November that the defendant, Jonathan Vincent, was protected from Extell’s bid to evict him by existing rent control laws. But the decision went a step further, tossing an agreement between the Belnord tenants’ association and the building’s previous owner in which the residents gave up some of their rights under rent-stabilization rules, including those related to succession rights, in exchange for vastly extended leases.

Extell filed papers to reargue the case, which will be reviewed starting on Jan. 10. If The Court of Appeals grants Extell’s request, the tenants association, which was not initially involved in the case, may be allowed to intervene.

Vincent, who lived at the 201 West 86th Street building since 2007, is the grandson of a long-time tenant who moved to a nursing home in 2009. Extell filed to evict them in 2011, saying the apartment was no longer her primary residence and that he was not the “tenant of record.”

Extell cited a 2006 agreement it signed with the Belnord Landmark Conservancy, which represents tenants at the building. The agreement gave existing tenants 49-year leases in return for a single increase in base rent, plus annual increases of 5 percent. The agreement also limited succession rights, and was approved by the state Division of Housing and Community Renewal, which regulates rental apartments.

In its appeal, Extell claimed that throwing out the agreement would actually hurt existing tenants. They noted that Vincent’s grandmother signed the 2006 agreement, and he never challenged the deal; moreover, the court did not hear testimony from the DHCR.

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“We’re Asking The Court to reconsider its decision,” said Magda Cruz, an attorney with Belkin Burden Wenig & Goldman, which represents Extell.

Robert Levy, attorney for the Belnord Landmark Conservancy, which was not a party to the original case, noted that the November ruling was made without direct input from the tenants or the DHCR.

“The primary issue raised in the litigation — whether the defendant did or did not have succession rights — could have been resolved without implicating the agreement and certainly without the abrogation of the agreement or the order,” Levy wrote in court documents filed to intervene in the case.

However, lawyers for Vincent and his grandmother argued that a private agreement cannot be used to get around the law.

“Somebody thought that if they could get the DHCR to rubber stamp an otherwise void agreement to waive rent regulation, that the public policy considerations enunciated by this and other courts could be circumvented,“ wrote Robert Grimble, an attorney at Grimble & LoGuidice, which represents Vincent and his grandmother.

A spokesperson for DHCR did not return calls.