NYU sues Gabon ambassador to UN over back rent

Central African nation owes thousands on Washington Square Village unit, filing contends

Ambassador Franklin Makanga and 4 Washington Square Village (Wikimedia, Facebook)
Ambassador Franklin Makanga and 4 Washington Square Village (Wikimedia, Facebook)

NYU’s Washington Square Village is a massive apartment complex that mainly houses graduate students and faculty. Its “superblock” even enjoyed a brief moment of pop-culture fame in the 1990s, as the home of Ross Geller, the affable goof on “Friends.”

But for the university and one longtime tenant, the situation there has become combative.

In a lawsuit filed Tuesday, NYU alleges the ambassador to the United Nations for Gabon, Franklin Makanga, owes it more than $32,000 in back rent. The Gabonese permanent mission to the U.N., the unit’s actual leaseholder, is Makanga’s co-defendant.

Gabon has leased an eighth-floor apartment at the two-tower complex since 1968, according to the lawsuit. The Central African country has renewed the lease every year or two since then. But when its lease came up at the end of 2018, the delegation failed to renew, according to the suit.

Makanga still lives in the unit but the $2,296.57 monthly rent has gone unpaid; it has accumulated for well over two years, the complaint alleges.

The pandemic together and Makanga’s status as a diplomat complicate the case. New York introduced a suite of relief measures for renters during the pandemic that prevent their eviction, though much of the period in which Makanga was allegedly living rent-free took place before the pandemic.

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Also, diplomats enjoy immunity from most lawsuits, although there are exceptions for some cases involving personal real estate.

In the 2000s, New York City sued India and Mongolia to collect more than $50 million in property taxes and interest on buildings the countries owned and partially used to house their diplomats. While a federal appeals court ultimately blocked collection in 2010, it featured decisions in favor of both sides as the case snaked its way up the system. It also illustrates the complicated rules guiding how missions and their diplomats may use property in the five boroughs.

NYU is among the city’s biggest landowners, controlling some 14.3 million square feet across 111 parcels in the city as of 2018, according to an analysis by The Real Deal.

Calls to Makanga and an attorney for NYU were not immediately returned.