Victor M. Metsch in Legal/Financial on July 18, 2019
It’s not only the sleek new condominium towers rising along Billionaires’ Row that offer priceless views of Central Park. At the venerable Essex House Condominium on Central Park South, an Art Deco gem that first opened as a hotel in 1931, two unit-owners recently fought a court battle royale when one owner blocked a sliver of the other’s coveted view of Central Park.
The case revolved around an intriguing question: just how much is a view of Central Park worth?
In 2008, a company called ESX purchased two adjacent units on the 16th floor of the 44-story Essex House, which is distinguished by the red neon sign on its roof. Four years later, another company called CPS bought the two units one floor below. The latter had a private outdoor terrace with a greenhouse that, ESX asserted, was “not noticeably visible” when it purchased the upstairs apartments in 2008.
In 2013, CPS asked the condo board for permission to renovate its apartments, including the demolition and reconstruction of the greenhouse, because it was cracked, leaking, and falling apart. The new structure was to be built on the same footprint. The condo board unanimously approved the project. When construction was complete, however, ESX claimed the new greenhouse was approximately 14 and a half inches taller than the original one – and that it blocked a portion of the Central Park view from two of the apartment’s five windows.
CPS countered that the new greenhouse was built “exactly to the same height along the terrace wall, as the prior structure.” A year after its original complaint to the condo board, ESX filed a lawsuit.
In its suit, ESX asserted that it was improper for CPS to build a structure which obstructed its views without ESX’s consent and that the new greenhouse had diminished the market value of its apartment by approximately $415,000. It also claimed that the condo board had breached its fiduciary duty and violated the Real Property Law by failing to comply with the condominium's bylaws. ESX sought a court order directing that the greenhouse be removed.
The board countered that it had complied with governing provisions concerning alterations by unit-owners and that its decision was protected by the Business Judgment Rule. The board also argued that ESX was not entitled to a "mandatory injunction" compelling CPS to remove the greenhouse, and that CPS had the right to build on its own terrace, with the board’s consent, according to the condominium’s bylaws.
ESX’s claim of diminished value was specious, according to CPS, since ESX rented the apartment for $15,500 a month in 2017, compared to $10,000 a month in 2010. CPS further asserted, based upon the deposition testimony of ESX’s principal, that only two out of five windows in the apartment had views of Central Park affected by the greenhouse, and the effects were minimal.
The court found that, even if ESX could show that the new greenhouse was taller than the original structure, the claims failed as a matter of law. Generally, an adjoining landowner does not have an easement for light or air without an express agreement. Manhattan Supreme Court Judge Lynn R. Kotler wrote: “Plaintiff cannot claim any damages for an alleged partial obstructed view of Central Park from any of the windows in the apartment.” ESX’s complaint was dismissed.
A view of Central Park may be worth a lot. But a sliver of that view, it turns out, is not worth $415,000.
Victor M. Metsch is of counsel at the law firm Smith, Gambrell & Russell.
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