New York's Cooperative and Condominium Community

Habitat Magazine July/August 2020 free digital issue

HABITAT

RIVER HOUSE

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.)

Recent news affecting co-op / condo buyers, sellers, boards and residents. This week, a mother and daughter living together is a "lifestyle" a condo-board president doesn't like? So says a lawsuit by the wealthy former mistress of Baron de Rothschild and their love child. Meanwhile, a condo board in South Harlem joins the ranks of those objecting to a restaurant for noise and other issues. Read a reporter's firsthand account of being trapped inside The Strand fire, an analysis of increasing "disability dog" litigation, and tricks 'n' tips for acing weird co-op boards' admission interviews. Plus: People who live glass buildings shouldn't throw stones at studies about overheated glass buildings.

Recent news affecting co-op / condo buyers, sellers, boards and residents. This week, the battle over emotional-support dogs gets even more emotional at East River House, as the feds get into the act. Elsewhere, condo and co-op boards might want to partake of a new program teaching doormen to recognize and report elder abuse. And some in City Council push for property-tax rebates. Plus, co-ops try to more like condos and vice-versa, a new affordable housing program will fill a long-empty condominium in The Bronx's Mount Hope neighborhood, and Ronan Farrow (pictured) may be your new Upper West Side neighbor.

Recent news affecting co-op / condo buyers, sellers, boards and residents. This week, we already knew that Class 2 properties — co-ops, most condos and rental buildings — carry an unfairly higher tax burden than Class 1 properties such as single-family homes. But a recent Furman Center panel of academics and other experts — including a former Dept. of Finance commissioner and the deputy director of the New York City Independent Budget Office — quantified just how much: Class 2 is taxed at a rate almost five times higher than Class 1. Check out the first article below for details.

Among the other news this week: a co-op's attempt to evict a 78-year-old over minor hoteling and a condo board's ongoing suit against a bad-neighbor gym.

Recent news affecting co-op / condo buyers, sellers, boards and residents. This week, for some reason, we're big on board-specific news: boards suing developers and residents, a board president squeezing "donations" from building vendors for a political bid and a board turning amateur cop and firing employees it suspects of thievery — hindering the investigation by actual cops. A George ZImmerman board, as it were. Plus, exclusive co-ops learn to compete for buyers and an alleged illegal hotelier has people arrested who complain! Man, late August is crazy!

Recent news affecting co-op / condo buyers, sellers, boards and residents. This week, gay, married co-op and condo owners are now among those getting equal protection under federal law. Plus, is there or isn't there a foreclosure auction at tony River House? And how much impact do maintenance fees have on the sale of a co-op? Plus: ThinkPad goes boom! Condo board goes to court!

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