Everyone loves a good David & Goliath story — especially when it plays out in the world of New York City real estate and pits a powerless underdog against a powerful developer.
Our David in this story is one Ahmet Nejat Ozsu, a month-to-month tenant without a lease who is refusing to vacate his apartment on West 84th Street while he seeks state assistance to pay off his $10,000 in rent arrears. Our Goliath is Niki Naftali of the Naftali Group, who has paid $71 million for a parcel that spans 207-221 W. 84th St. — including the building that contains Ozsu's apartment — and has plans to raze the buildings and replace them with an 18-story luxury condo project with 45 residential units, ground-floor retail and 17 parking spots.
A Manhattan housing court judge threw a wrench in the Naftali Group’s plans this week, Crain's reports, allowing Ozsu to remain in his apartment pending a decision on his application for relief from the state's Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP). Under the rules of the program, a tenant who has applied for rental assistance may not be evicted until a decision is made on the application. Score one for David.
In February Naftali filed suit to evict Ozsu and collect $25 million in damages from him, citing his “willful, malicious and unconscionable holding over in a luxury penthouse apartment.” The developer also placed a loud fan and a security camera outside Ossu's door and paid workers to harass him when he enters or leaves the building, Ozsu’s attorney, Adam Leitman Bailey, told The New York Post in April. Ozsu’s hot water has been cut off, and he does not have access to his mail or the laundry room.
“And even though the building is going to be demolished,” Bailey said, “they do noisy construction across the hall.”
A Supreme Court judge denied Naftali’s motion to remove Ozsu in April. Naftali appealed. The judge called Naftali’s repeated attempts at removing the tenant “frivolous conduct.” The developer argued that because there is no lease, Ozsu is not a tenant and is not eligible for ERAP, and any money recovered from the program would not be accepted because Naftali is not pursuing back rent.
But because Ozsu is a month-to-month tenant, he is obligated to pay rent, and his rental assistance application is valid, Judge Travis Arrindell ruled Tuesday.
According to Bailey, the landlord offered Ozsu $30,000 to leave, then a bit more, but his client has not indicated a number he’d accept.
Until a decision is made, Naftali may not move forward with its plan. If Ozsu’s ERAP application is accepted, the developer may not evict him for 12 months from the date the money is received. Bailey predicted that the application will be acepted.
In the end, David might win this battle; but Goliath will likely win the war.
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