The East Village is a big step closer to getting a brand-new mansion and losing a 15-unit, 60-room, 11,600-square-foot rent-stabilized tenement building.
On Tuesday morning, the New York State Court of Appeals unanimously decided that a shipping heir named Alistair Economakis and his wife, Catherine, can try to take over all of 47 East Third Street without getting approval from the state’s low-income housing agency.
The couple and a group of investors bought the building in October 2002 amidst bankruptcy proceedings, but soon they became sole owners, and filed plans for a mansion with about four bedrooms, a library, a study, a den, a gym with an adjoining shower, a dining room, one living room and another two-story living room, a playroom, and a nanny’s suite.
Since then, the family has taken over six apartments, which leaves nine units with tenants who’ve refused to get bought out. Lower courts have disagreed on whether the owners can recover the rest of the building for themselves without approval from New York’s Department of Housing and Community Renewal, but Tuesday’s decision says the laws are plain.
“Obviously, I am very pleased,” Mr. Economakis wrote on his Web site. But the whole thing isn’t his yet: In civil court he’ll have to establish what’s called “good-faith intention” to live in the house. But his plans seem serious: A $35,000 proposal to convert the building’s storefront into a residential garage was pre-filed on Friday with the city.
“I think the story would be ‘Dog Bites Man,’ versus ‘Man Bites Dog,’” the landlord’s lawyer, Jeffrey Turkel, said earlier in the week when asked about a potential decision in his client’s favor. He meant that it shouldn’t be surprising a court would side with the landlord, considering that the city’s laws swo plainly allow an owner to claim “one or more” stabilized units, as long as there’s that “good faith.”
Dave Pultz, a soft-spoken 56-year-old film laboratory technician who lives on the first floor, said the court ignored the tenants’ main argument: Not only are the owners taking over rent-stabilized apartments, he said, they’re destroying them by turning the tenement into a mansion. “We think this was just a gambit to increase the value of the building and make them richer,” he said.
So are the tenants looking forward to fighting the landlord in civil court, where, after all, he still has to prove he’s not going to flip the property? “I don’t know if we’re looking forward to it,” Mr. Pultz said, “but we’re going to go.”