Sales Market

Royals: they're just like us (and get mercilessly harrassed by the landlord)

By Virginia K. Smith  | August 5, 2014 - 2:59PM

As a rule, there are people in this world who get more of our sympathy than a real-life princess (albeit a deposed one) who has lucked into a 1,600-square-foot apartment on the Upper East Side, for which she pays $390 a month.

Still, minus the royal detail, the story of Her Imperial Highness Zeynep Osman, recounted yesterday by the New York Times, sounds an awful lot like all those other stories that've been plaguing the news lately of landlords strong-arming renters out of affordable apartments—including the building owner leaving a rent-controlled apartment in disrepair and pressuring a longtime tenant to move out in hopes of making more money.

Besides being a case of "hey, look, landlords hassle rich people, too!" this also represents just about everything that can go wrong with a rent-stabilized apartment, all in one fell swoop.

Osman, the widow of an heir to the defunct Ottoman empire, and a member of Afghanistan's former royal family, has lived in her place at 74th and Lex since 1991—her late husband had been there since 1945—and is currently battling eviction at the hands of a new landlord, who bought the building in 2011. Her husband's original lease expired in 1977, and since then, she's been there month-to-month.

"The first words out of [the landlord's] mouth were: 'I want you out. I paid too much for this building to have you here,'" Osman told the Times.

Both the current owner and the previous landlord reportedly neglected the apartment: there are currently 201 violations on her unit alone. Osman says she has to cover her furniture to protect it from ceiling leaks, and has spent thousands every month in both upkeep and legal fees. And the Department of Housing Preservation and Development has done $49,000 worth of repairs in the last decade. 

This is often the case with stabilized units, where landlords have far less incentive to keep things up to date, and also hints at the owner's likely plans to tear down the building and combine it with the one next door (which he also owns) into something larger and more lucrative. (What, you thought he was hoping to offer the place to a middle-income New Yorker who could really just use a break on their rent?)

If the eviction doesn't hold up in court, this'll all probably end in a buyout—"I am accustomed to a certain lifestyle, and he cannot just throw me out" is how Osman puts it.

So, let's review: a wealthy person living in a stabilized unit; a landlord neglecting and attempting to oust stabilized tenant; and an affordable apartment likely being destroyed to make way for a market-rate (or commercial) development. Check, check, and check—all the different ways one of the city's rare affordable apartments can go to waste.


What's a buyout really worth? Use this calculator to figure it out

Landlord wants to buy you out? How to name your price—plus real-life examples from $15k to $1 million

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