Facing lawsuit from Crown, private school in Brooklyn closes suddenly

Crown Acquisitions, led by the Chera family, filed a lawsuit in April alleging that the private school owes $6.1 million in back rent

Richard and Isaac Chera with 9 Hanover Place (Getty, Google Maps)
Richard and Isaac Chera with 9 Hanover Place (Getty, Google Maps)

A private school in downtown Brooklyn shut its doors just days before class was supposed to start as it battles with its landlord over unpaid rent.

The Science Language & Arts International School’s board blamed its landlord, Crown Acquisition, for the sudden closure.

“The school has suffered greatly because of our landlord’s actions, which compounded the losses the school has sustained from the Covid-19 pandemic and with the departure of many of our families,” it emailed parents.

Crown Acquisitions, led by the Chera family, sued in April, seeking $6.1 million in back rent and $18.4 million in accelerated damages.

The school’s email said negotiations with the landlord recently “collapsed” and other options, including forging partnerships with other schools and other entities, also failed. In addition, the school said if the landlord’s recent motion for summary judgment is granted, the school’s bank accounts could be seized.

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It is not clear if anything will be left in those accounts by then. SLA wrote that it plans to return prepayments in the next week to families, but given the company’s cash situation, “families should not anticipate receiving all the money that they have prepaid.”

The school inked a 10-year lease for 40,000 square feet at 9 Hanover Place in June 2018, according to court documents. Its annual rent started at $1.87 million and was to increase throughout the term of the lease, reaching $2.4 million in the 10th year. The school later subleased one floor to a charter school.

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The landlord alleges the school has been behind on rent since October 2018.

Crown sent the school a notice of a lease termination in February, according to court documents, but claims that SLA has refused to vacate.

The school’s lawyers argued that Crown’s request for summary judgment should be denied because Crown miscalculated the unpaid rent. The charter school subleasing space from SLA paid rent directly to Crown, but this was not included in Crown’s calculation of unpaid rent, the filing claimed.

It also alleged that the landlord had no right to accelerate the rent payments because SLA’s lease had not been terminated. The lawsuit is pending.

The Science, Language and Arts International School was founded by Jennifer Wilkin in 2011. It has another location at 132 Fourth Place in Carroll Gardens.

Tuition starts at $28,100 for preschool and rises to $32,500 for the sixth through eighth grades, according to its website.

Private and charter school leasing has become a lifeline to some landlords during the pandemic as office and retail leasing has slowed. In March, the Brooklyn Prospect Charter School inked a 30-plus-year lease for 70,000 square feet at the former St. Joseph High School in Downtown Brooklyn. A year ago, BASIS Independent Brooklyn leased 62,000 square feet for a new school in the City Point development, also in Downtown.

Crown is one of the largest developers in New York and owns some of the most prominent retail properties along Manhattan’s Fifth Avenue. The firm’s co-founder, Stanley Chera, died in April 2020 of complications from the coronavirus at age 77. The firm’s day-to-day operations are now overseen by his sons Isaac and Richard.

Neither SLA’s attorney nor Wilkin returned a request for comment. An attorney for the landlord declined to comment.