In Response to the NYTimes: 239 Banker Street

On December 3rd the New York Times published an article about 239 Banker Street, an illegally converted industrial building being rented as residential lofts. 239 Banker Street is famous in its neighborhood, and on neighborhood blogs, as an extreme example of landlord’s flouting city laws and the city agencies being unable to successfully correct the situation through traditional agencies.

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338 Berry’s deal

Someone asked me to explain the mess here at 338 Berry St, especially in light of the story in The Post and other quick presentations of a really complex legal mess.

So, here it goes.

We (10 units) have all been here at 338 Berry St. since at least 1998.  We did sign an agreement in 2004, after a long court fight.  It was an OK deal (allowing us to stay 7 years with reasonable rent increases), especially given that the other choice was guaranteed eviction due to a brand-new court decision. That’s the Wolinsky decision, which in my flawed understanding excluded buildings in M-1 zones from any protection under the old Loft Law.  Ironic detail: the lawyer on the landlord’s side of the Wolinsky decision was also our landlord’s lawyer, and she was pleased as punch.

We never considered challenging the agreement (called a Stipulation) until the 2010 Loft Law passed.  At that point, our attorney told us that the Loft Law overrides such agreements, that overriding existing agreements between tenants and landlords is part of its purpose.  In the exercising of the new law, which is a blunt instrument, some landlords will benefit, some tenants will benefit.  Politicians and loft tenant activists supported this notion as the legal battle progressed.

In the end, it did not work out for us.  The Stipulation was either more tightly-written than ones that were overturned in the 80s and 90s, or the tendencies of the courts in 2012 are different from the way they used to be.  Or we were stupid.

But we were never greedy.  We had an opportunity to settle for some cash, but we just wanted to stay.  Wouldn’t you fight for your home (and work space!), even if someone might say you were cheating?

And we were never gambling, and we do not feel entitled.  Yes, we were trying to get out of an agreement we signed, but we honestly thought the law was on our side, that you cannot promise away in 2004 your access to a law that didn’t exist until 2010.  We still believe it, but there is no more opportunity to pursue this argument in the courts — our motion to stay judgment pending appeal was denied.  The appeal is based on a good argument, and could theoretically move forward, but we will be out anyway.

About the press.  The Post is not a good place for a complex story, and I’m on the fence about whether I should have put myself in that position.  My long, rambling narrative about how artists slowly move into abandoned neighborhoods and the bars and developers follow them and kick them out was severely smashed into:  “The people like us who
made the neighborhood cool are the ones getting the boot.”  – or something like that.  Not so good.  But the Post led to Channel 7, which led to Crain’s New York, which is a good piece of reporting.

So that’s the story.  Hopefully we at 338 can get a little more time here to figure things out, but my 17 years in this building are over.

David