The White Gloves Come Off: Delinquent Condo Dwellers Feel the Pain

Ugly is putting it mildly. At 95 Greene Street, a SoHo building that Mr. Brensilber also manages, celebrity photographer Kenneth Nahoum and his Victoria’s Secret model girlfriend, Basia Milewicz, stopped paying the common charges for the four penthouses they had amassed, units that accounted for some 20 percent of the building’s square footage and a good deal of its operating budget.

After phone calls, letters and liens failed to elicit any response from the couple, the building cut off elevator service to the penthouses (legal, since the building is only six stories) and removed their names from the door buzzer. At some point, Mr. Nahoum’s courtside seats at a Knicks game further fanned the flames. The board ultimately hung posters in the building with a photo of the couple at a Halloween party captioned “Why aren’t these ‘caped crusaders’ paying their common charges?”

“We didn’t have a lot of recourse. The legal system is extremely slow,” said board president Jesse Newhouse. “We knocked around a number of ideas and this was pretty much the only thing we could think of that was in any way enforceable and legal.”

The couple fired back with a $2.1 million harassment suit; the judge asked the board to remove the posters. One of the units has since sold, but the couple still owes the board more than $100,000, according to board attorney Robert Braverman, and everyone else in the building is paying 25 percent more every month to make up for the difference. Deprivation has worked in other buildings that he advises, Mr. Braverman said, but 95 Greene is “a very unusual, crazy situation.”

“It’s unfortunate that it came down to something as silly as that,” Mr. Newhouse reflected. “But we had someone who was gaming the system and there was nothing we could do about it. He had multiple units. He certainly had the opportunity to sell some.”
Had he lost faith in the method?

Mr. Newhouse sighed. “No. I mean we have to do something. I think it’s a war of attrition at this point, but we would be negligent if we did nothing.”

Mr. Nahoum was not available for comment. Like many of the other residents in arrears The Observer tried to contact, his listed number was no longer in service (phone companies, unlike condos, do not view cutting services as a novelty). The Observer did, however, reach Solomon J. Jaskiel, the lawyer who had represented the couple in the countersuit.

“Legally, I thought the poster was breaching the board’s fiduciary duty,” said Mr. Jaskiel. “Personally, I thought it was outrageous. Can you imagine if anyone who you owed money to could hang up signs in front of your house? I mean, the fact that they were living with these people—it’s even more outrageous!”

Still, the methods are not something that boards, brokers or management agents are all that eager to discuss. The practice seems a little indelicate, in the words of one source, or tacky even, as another whispered with gleeful reluctance. Prudential Douglas Elliman and Halsted property management declined to comment, and while Brown Harris Stevens admitted to using the practice, none of the buildings they manage wanted to talk about it.

They were even more reluctant to discuss public shaming, aka, posting arrears lists, although a few expressed shock and horror on even hearing that such a thing existed.

“I don’t think that’s appropriate. We don’t shun people!” cried Roberta Axelrod, who sits on the board of 10 buildings as a sponsor representative of Time Equities residential, where she is director of the sales and rentals division.

Certainly, some residents want to know who is in arrears, she admitted, but in her opinion, it’s none of their business.

Distasteful as the tactics may be—and even if they don’t persuade delinquents to pay up—they do serve some purpose. At Wellington Towers, the results of the austerity measures have been financially negligible, Ms. Sheinberg admitted, but they were certainly worthwhile.

“Has it caused people to pay their arrears?” she pondered. “I don’t know. But it has given the other unit owners …” she paused to find le mot juste. “I wouldn’t say satisfaction, that’s not the word. It’s almost like the punishment fits the crime.”

kvelsey@observer.com

The White Gloves Come Off: Delinquent Condo Dwellers Feel the Pain