Lights Out: Eviction Stay Snuffed for Sixteenth Street Synagogue

The synagogue's legal battle is on its last legs.

The synagogue’s legal battle is on its last legs.

The Appellate Court has denied the Sixteenth Street Synagogue a stay of eviction that would have kept it in its home of 67 years while it explores its dwindling legal options. And dwindling they are.

The Synagogue is reaching the final stages of decade-long legal battle to stay at 3 West 16th Street that has spanned two separate building owners. But the Synagogue will likely need to file its next appeal—if there are to be additional appeals—from a new home base.

On Friday, the Orthodox synagogue learned that the Appellate Court would not stay its eviction while the religious group filed its next appeal. The congregation has been ordered to clear out by January 16.

The soon-to-be displaced Synagogue was also denied a stay of eviction from New York State Supreme Court earlier this week. The congregation had hoped that the Appellate Court, where it plans to file an appeal, would be more understanding.

Nati Schnur, spokesperson for the Synagogue said that as the bad news had come down right before the Sabbath, Sixteenth Street would have to wait to discuss its next steps until it ended.

Ms. Schnur said that Sixteenth Street would need to see if its claim to 1/3 ownership of the building could be argued from a different premise to make a viable legal claim.

The Synagogue grew out of the National Council of Young Israel’s model synagogue in the 1940s and feels that its long-standing existence in the basement and first-floor has implied ownership; the National Council felt differently and tried to oust the synagogue when it was preparing to sell the building in the late 1990s.

In the mid-2000s, the court battle between Sixteenth Street and Young Israel ended when would-be savior Steve Ancona, a member of Sephardic Synagogue Magen David, an affiliated group that worshiped on the second floor, came up with a solution. He would find a financial backer to buy the building and convert the top four floors to luxury condos. After the condos sold, the profits would pay for both synagogues to stay in perpetuity.

The financial backer emerged in the form of Syrian businessman Jack Braha, whom Mr. Ancona knew from previous deals. He agreed to pay for everything, on the condition that he be sole owner for tax purposes. But the deal fell apart after construction stalled and Mr. Ancona failed to pay rent; Mr. Braha sued Mr. Ancona.

The two synagogues, who had no promises, contracts, deeds, or leases in writing, were out of luck. And it is the lack of legal contract—and the straight forwardness of the legal contract between Mr. Ancona and Mr. Braha—that the courts have cited in denying Sixteenth Street’s appeals.

As for Sixteenth Street, the best, and perhaps only option at this point may be a lease agreement with Mr. Braha (he has said that the market rate price for the first-floor space would be approximately $12,000 per month). Although the Synagogue has expressed eagerness to work out a deal, president Richard McBee has said that after four years of trying, and failing, to reach a deal, he is dubious that the parties can come to a workable agreement.

kvelsey@observer.com