Real estate’s juiciest lawsuits of 2014
The old industry mantra “location, location, location” should come affixed with a corollary: “lawsuit, lawsuit, lawsuit.” From Jack Sitt going toe-to-toe with his brethren, to a battle for control of Town Residential, to a disturbing case of a landlord allegedly spying on a young female resident, the real estate industry saw it all this year. The Real Deal was there every step of the way, and we’ve rounded up some of the year’s most high-profile cases.
Bellmarc’s Neil Binder in a bind
Neil Binder, co-founder of Coldwell Banker Bellmarc Group, was sued by his former business partners Anthony DeGrotta and Larry Friedman in August, claiming he allegedly embezzled hundreds of thousands of dollars and using the firm’s coffers as his “personal piggy bank.” DeGrotta and Friedman sued for $2 million in damages. Late last month, the lawsuit was settled and the business partners left Bellmarc, leaving Binder in charge. DeGrotta and Friedman have since moved to Keller Williams.
Ralph Sitt vs. Jack Sitt
A family squabble escalated into a lawsuit in November, when Jack Sitt, a former Sitt Asset Management principal, sued his brother Ralph for allegedly depriving him of millions of dollars in income. As a member of the family and a former executive, Jack claimed he had the right to look into the company’s books and wanted an equal share of Sitt Asset’s profits. In turn, Adam Leitman Baily, who represents Ralph in the suit called the it “frivolous,” saying that all the documents in question have in fact already been provided to Jack Sitt. “He’s gotten everything he asked for,” Bailey said at the time. As far as the commissions go, the attorney added, Jack “had abandoned the business during that time.”
Men about Town: Andrew Heiberger vs. Joe Sitt
Andrew Heiberger, the founder of Town Residential, filed suit against his equity partner Joseph Sitt in January 2014. The suit followed the end of Heiberger’s role as the firm’s chief executive officer as a result of the expiration of his contract, earlier that week. In the suit, Heiberger asked for at least $60 million in damages. He also asked a judge to prevent his dismissal from Town’s board of managers. Heiberger and Sitt, who is best known as the CEO of Thor Equities, have since settled their differences and Heiberger has returned to the firm as CEO. Jeff Appel, Town’s former chief operating officer and president was let go upon Heiberger’s return.
Poaching pains: Town Residential vs. Douglas Elliman
Nicole Oge, Town Residential’s former director of marketing, was at the center of a June lawsuit between the two residential brokerages. Town sued Douglas Elliman for allegedly poaching Oge and allegedly encouraging her to break her non-compete agreement to join the larger brokerage. Town also sued Oge for an alleged breach of contract as well as breach of fiduciary duty. Town asked the court to prevent Elliman from hiring Oge in a marketing capacity, and also sought punitive damages. Oge is currently Elliman’s global chief marketing officer.
The spy who loved me
In November, a young Upper West Side resident filed suit against her landlord and former employers Eli Kadoch and Michel Kadoe for allegedly spying on her while in her bedroom and bathroom. Over the course of roughly six months, the defendants allegedly gathered at least 70 videos of her engaging in private acts, according to the suit, which says that the landlords engaged in “intentional infringement on her privacy rights.” Kadoe responded to the suit through his lawyer, denying all the allegations made against him.
IF funding, THEN lawsuits: Urban Compass
Avi Dorfman, who founded two now-defunct real estate startups, sued Urban Compass, claiming that the firm’s chief executive officer Robert Reffkin adopted his product under false pretenses. In a July suit, Dorfman alleged that Urban Compass is actually built on his software and that he was promised an ownership stake. Dorfman also wanted a judge to bar Urban Compass from using trade secrets that the firm allegedly took from RentJolt, one of his real estate startups. Urban Compass was sued again in August, when brokerage Citi Habitats claimed that the brokerage was hacking into its proprietary database. A judge granted a restraining order against the startup brokerage, preventing it from accessing the database. Citi Habitats wanted to halt Urban Compass’ software development. The court didn’t grant that request.
Double-crossing church: Madison Equities
Robert Gladstone’s Madison Equities sued the Serbian Orthodox Church for allegedly breaching a letter of intent by not disclosing a $13.5 million bill the religious institution owed to brokerage Tenantwise. Madison agreed to help fix up the landmarked sanctuary on West 26th Street in exchange for the use of its air rights.