Condo Board Slams Door on Verizon

Written by Ron Egatz on October 12, 2017

Turtle Bay, Manhattan

Case could give condo boards significant new power.

Condo board files $67 million lawsuit at Turtle Bay luxury tower.

It was a question of security. The Sands, a 111-unit, 14-story co-op at 321 East 45 Street, was having intercom problems. Although the property, between First and Second Avenues, has a doorman on duty from 4 P.M. to midnight, residents were concerned about relying on the 56-year-old intercom as the only watchdog.

"The system was pretty much under continual repair because there seemed to be some internal wiring problems due to its age," recalls Tom Uhl, a board member. "In my own unit, I could release the door from my apartment, but I couldn't hear the doorman or any guests on the phone or they couldn't hear me. So it came down to the point where if I knew visitors were coming, they called me on the cellphone from the vestibule, and I released the door. But if I had a surprise guest or somebody was delivering something, and they didn't have my cellphone number, it was a problem."

Habitat recently covered the issue of ground-lease co-ops and condos from a big-picture, concept-and-instructional perspective. But the big picture ain't the only picture, and BrickUnderground.com does a nice job with this detailed, side-by-side comparison of two co-ops in Manhattan's Turtle Bay neighborhood: one a ground-lease (a.k.a. land-lease) co-op and the other not. So check out the $349,000 ground-lease one-bedroom at 420 East 51st Street, with a $3,238 monthly maintenance, and a comparable regular co-op at 400 East 52nd Street, asking $725,000 and with a $1,732 maintenance. Ah, but those numbers alone don't tell the story. The devil is in the details — as is, possibly, a devilishly good deal.

Kim Velsey in The New York Observer writes, quite entertainingly, of the travails facing diplomats seeking co-op or condo housing in New York. At many places it's "Diplomats Need Not Apply," as boards worry about diplomatic immunity, security details, endless sign-offs from the State Department and others, and, of course, the dreaded scourge of cocktail parties. Not to mention: You approve one diplomat, there's a coup, now you've got a whole new neighbor to contend with. We learn that while the UK and New Zealand have been given the red carpet, poor France got turned down at River House and Qatar had to buy a townhouse. (We know ... big hardship.) Attorney Steven Wagner offers an amusing anecdote about a bad diplomat in Astoria, Queens. And you don't even want to know what diplomats from poor countries have to contend with. Two words: studio apartment.

It seems like just the other day we were writing about the famously snooty River House co-op — oh, wait ... it was just the other day! — which refused to allow in such louts as Diane Keaton, Gloria Vanderbilt and Joan Crawford. (It has allowed Uma Thurman, Barbara Taylor Bradford and Henry Kissinger, among others.) But now River House, a 1931 beauty at the East River end of 52nd Street, is easing into the 21st century, says The New York Times. For one thing, the paper marveled, its board president was talking to The New York Times. It does need good press — its reputation hasn't done apartment sales any good, with places going for far less than comparable ones, brokers say. And a foreclosure auction last week? That simply is not cricket, old chap. But between this new openness and an ongoing $50 million refurbishing, things may change for the better for what really is an extraordinary edifice. As one broker quipped to the Times, “Even when they were making them like this, nobody was making them like this.”

Following the stringent conditions that the River House co-op board placed on the sale of Arlene Farkas' 14-room apartment, which wound up scotching a $7.8 million sale to the French government, the place will be sold at a public foreclosure auction today, reports the New York Daily News. Farkas, who owes $6 million in mortgage payments has lived at the old-money co-op in Turtle Bay since 1969 and, for the larger part of 24 years, was negotiating the legal waters of divorce and share-ownership. This followed her discovery that husband Bruce R. Farkas, an heir to the Alexander's department-store fortune, was simultaneously married to another woman for many years. Which is a whole story in itself.

No less an eminence than France's U.N. Ambassador has been stymied by the co-op board of River House, the famously ... particular, shall we say, apartment house in Manhattan's Turtle Bay neighborhood. Josh Barbanel reports in The Wall Street Journal that after the government of France agreed in May to buy a 14-room co-op for the dignitary's domicile, the board bowed to the campaign of socialite Elizabeth R. Kabler, who lives across the hall and sent fellow shareholders a letter objecting to the prospect of noisy parties, armed guards and, yep, diplomatic immunity. The board actually approved the sale, but with restrictions. The French government agreed — except for one that scotched the deal. So if you have $8.2 million on hand and don't expect a lot of guests, the place could be yours!

An immense, 14-room duplex apartment in the River House co-op in Manhattan's Turtle Bay neighborhood has finally gone into contract after nearly 25 years of uncertainty, The Wall Street Journal reports. The 5,000-square-foot apartment was first caught int the middle of the 18-year divorce proceedings between Arlene Farkas, the current seller, and her ex-husband Bruce Farkas, heir to the now-defunct Alexander's department-store chain. For a half-dozen years after that, the apartment was listed unsuccessfully from a high of $15 million to the $7.8 million that brokers told the Journal was the recent sale price.

The sale is emblematic of a change in River House's market history, which despite a purchase in November by the actress Uma Thurman has been lackluster in recent years, for reasons including the co-op board's reputation for being difficult. That may be changing: Last year, the board briefly put the 1931 building's private River Club space on the market as a private residence, but instead reached a deal with the club under which residents are automatically invited to join. (Subscription required, or you can read an abstract, with several photos, at Curbed.NY.com.)

Condominium associations, unlike cooperatives, can't turn down a prospective purchaser except in one way — by exercising its "right of first refusal" and buying the apartment instead. It doesn't happen often, since condo boards usually have just a short amount of time to come up with the cash or let the sale go through. And if the association doesn't have enough money on hand and can't get a conventional loan in time, what's a board to do?

To quote Mel Gibson in The Road Warrior: "You come to me."

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