Saturday, October 1 2022

Looking for a temporary rental apartment on the Upper West Side to escape noisy construction for $2,999 per month. Which option did this couple choose?

The one who eventually sued them, with allegations that they owed at least $35,000 in back rent and fees.

New York Times contributor Joyce Cohen who writes “The Hunt” — a weekly column that has long chronicled residents’ struggles to find a new home in notoriously expensive and competitive New York City — has a real estate headache of its own: charges against her for unpaid rent at a property near Central Park in a sublease agreement, one that the landlords say is also illegal.

Cohen was named alongside her husband, Benjamin Meltzer, in a state Supreme Court complaint filed Tuesday by plaintiffs Amit and Jasmine Matta, the latter of whom referred to the 11th-floor rental in question as their primary residence until at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In the complaint, the Mattas note that they moved to a temporary residence in the city during the early days of COVID for the sake of their daughter’s health and that of Jasmine, who was recovering from cancer.

This unit appears to be the one they own in Chelsea – a two-bedroom apartment that Amit Matta bought in 2005 for $1.4 million, according to city financial records, and more recently tried to rent between May and November 2020 without success, StreetEasy records show. The Craigslist ad to sublet their downtown furnished unit, according to the complaint, went live around November 2020.

Business Intern first news reported of the suit. Cohen declined to comment for this story.

Cohen is a New York Times contributor. “Defendant’s conduct is rich in irony and hypocrisy since the rent that defendants refuse to pay is less than the current market rental value of plaintiff’s residence,” the complaint states.

In late 2020, Cohen and Meltzer responded to the ad by saying they needed to take shelter in their nearby rent-stabilized home due to impending construction that was to take place outside which, according to records of the gaps after Department of Buildings hours of July 2022, is still ongoing. (Meanwhile, Department for Transport records show that the block on which the sub-tenants’ temporary residence is located has its own works in progress, including ConEd carrying out a gas installation with a permit valid until September. )

Cohen and Meltzer agreed to pay $2,999 per month and all utilities, according to the complaint, while continuing to pay rent for their primary residence.

The reason for Cohen and Meltzer’s move, as the complaint details: They have a hearing condition called hyperacusis, which can make seemingly ordinary noises — in this case, construction noises — unbearably loud.

Sometime after Cohen and Meltzer moved in, the complaint adds, the building’s landlord and superintendent knocked on the door. The sublet arranged for the rental apartment, according to the landlord — who Insider said sued the Mattas and Cohens separately in December — was illegal, and the landlord would take legal action as a result.

The complaint relates to a building on the Upper West Side, which is otherwise known for its historic sandstone rows.
The complaint relates to a building on the Upper West Side, which is otherwise known for its rows of historic townhouses.
Getty Images

“For the past two months they have suspended rent payments as we try to settle with Jasmine and Amit, who admit to subletting their apartment without the landlord’s permission.”

Jeffrey McAdams, attorney for Cohen and Meltzer, told the Post

The Mattas say in the complaint that they ‘implored’ the couple to move out to spare themselves an impending lawsuit – but Cohen and Meltzer not only allegedly refused to do so, but also said they would pay no more than 2 $558 per month, or what their attorney said is “legal rent,” the complaint adds. The Mattas also said in their complaint that Cohen knew the landlord could sue for an unapproved sublet when she entered into the agreement.

“After [Cohen and Meltzer] continued to live for free, stopped paying rent at [the Mattas] and paid no rent to the landlord,” the complaint states. He adds that the “live free plan” would have been aggravated by Cohen’s “extensive knowledge of real estate and real estate connections” due to his column in The Times.

“Defendant’s conduct is rich in irony and hypocrisy since the rent that defendants refuse to pay is less than the current market rental value of plaintiff’s residence,” the complaint states.

Communications between Cohen and Meltzer and the Mattas, cited in the complaint, also show that the subtenants began paying rent into an escrow account, but allegedly stopped depositing rent into it due to a dispute over the lawyer’s fees. However, the complaint does not specify when rent payments would have stopped, how much are allegedly due — or how the minimum damages of $35,000 are split between rent and other costs.

The area is also home to collective housing.
The area is also home to collective housing.
Christopher Sadowski for NYPost

“After renting this apartment urgently to escape construction noise, Joyce and Ben discovered that the overtenants were subletting them under false pretenses. The landlord stopped accepting the rent and [the Mattas] now live in their condominium,” Jeffrey McAdams, the attorney representing Cohen and Meltzer, told The Post in a statement, referring to the Chelsea property.

McAdams added that Cohen regularly deposits money into his escrow account.

“On my advice, for the past two months they have suspended rent payments as we try to settle with Jasmine and Amit, who admit to subletting their apartment without the landlord’s permission,” McAdams said in the press release. “The tenants refuse to move in and instead continue to harass and threaten to hurt Joyce and Ben.”

(The complaint further details the subtenants’ claims that Jasmine intended to “walk through the apartment with a megaphone,” which the complaint does not admit as true. Amit Matta told Insider that he and his wife “completely deny” this.)

The lawsuit further accuses Cohen and Meltzer of refusing to relocate despite Mattas offering them an alternative solution to their needs.

Yet the communication from Cohen and Meltzer’s attorney cited in the complaint states: “[Jasmine] thinks Joyce and Ben want to take her home; they don’t. They must be within walking distance of their home on 74th Street, but are willing to move if Amit finds a place quiet enough for their needs and larger than a studio.

Records point to other issues in the history of this apartment – a bitter relationship apparently existing between the Mattas and their landlord – in the form of past violations that appear to have been reported by the Mattas and passed on by the Department of Preservation and from city housing development to landlord. They include one who documented a cockroach infestation throughout the apartment. Another detailed flaking lead paint from a door frame. These have since been resolved.

An Upper West Side townhouse.
An Upper West Side townhouse.
Getty Images

This week’s Supreme Court filings also include an exhibit, the first section of which under a heading “Roommate Agreement” states that the tenancy provides two years of “full and unlimited access” to the property between January 15, 2021 and on January 14, 2023 – unless Cohen were to give Matta 30 days notice to waive those rights.

“Whether [Cohen] issues such notice, it is understood that [Matta] may seek to find another person to share the property or possibly sublet the space,” he says. “To support this, [Matta] you may want to show the device to other people and [Cohen] undertakes to facilitate these visits with at least 24 hours notice.

The ninth section of this agreement, meanwhile, states that Cohen and Matta agreed to make reversible modifications to the home, including the installation of plexiglass noise barriers, in an apparent nod to noise sensitivities. of the couple. As of July 5, the complaint adds, Cohen and Meltzer have not moved.

The Mattas intended to offer the subtenants a two-year sublease – and in a statement, the family says there are “many other” interactions that they did not document in the complaint.

“I don’t understand why they are still with us when they were ready to leave on July 5,” Jasmine told the Post in a statement. “So our place no longer provides necessary cover for their safety and health – it’s just a matter of money. We just want to make sure they pay the rent due so we can hand it over to the landlord.

A New York Times spokesperson, in response to a message seeking comment, told the Post, “We are aware of the lawsuit and are reviewing it.” The building’s owner, Great Neck-based Vision Enterprises Management, declined to comment. Jennifer Rozen, an attorney representing the Mattas in the apartment building lawsuit, did not return a request for comment.

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