Naftali Holdout Tenant Fighting Eviction Denied Rent Assistance
In the overturned and protracted fight at 215 West 84th Street, building owner Miki Naftali asks the tenant to hang his condo project on the ropes.
Recalcitrant Ahmet Ozsu has been rejected by the state for emergency rent assistance. The endorsement would have shielded him from eviction for up to a year, bolstering his leverage to demand a seven-figure buyout from the promoter.
But Ozsu’s attorney, Adam Leitman Bailey, said the tenant still had options and could put off Naftali’s plan to convert the rental building into a luxury condominium for months or more. Naftali, for his part, said he doesn’t plan to start working for a while anyway, which means he won’t be rushed into a big payout.
Last month, a housing court judge ruled that Ozsu, the last remaining tenant of the Upper West Side building, could stay in his penthouse while the state considers his request for rent relief. But late last week, the state denied Ozsu’s request, saying it hadn’t asked for back payments, only future rent. (The Emergency Rent Assistance Program provides up to 12 months of overdue rent and three months of rent in advance.)
Naftali had filed for eviction from Ozsu in January, saying the tenant had overstayed a terminated lease and hadn’t paid rent since September. Ozsu countered by requesting the aid, which prohibits deportation while the application is considered. With the two sides unable to agree on a takeover, Naftali filed plans to demolish the building in July.
ozsu said The New York Times in April that he refused an initial buyout offer of $30,000. Naftali declined to comment on this, but claimed Ozsu was looking for over $1 million.
Denial of rental assistance does not put Ozsu at risk of imminent eviction. Leitman Bailey said the decision was likely a mistake and his client would appeal. He has 30 days to do so.
Court documents show Ozsu listed at least four months of rent arrears on his application for assistance. Leitman Bailey said the tenant requested relief for those arrears, contrary to the state’s rationale for denying assistance.
Still, the action of the state’s Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance, which runs the relief program, came as a surprise. The agency had told Ozsu in early September that her application had been tentatively approved, according to an email shared with The Real Deal. Naftali just had to confirm the amount due.
It’s unclear whether Naftali’s response – or lack thereof – played a role in the denial. Landlords said their ERAP deposits must match those of their tenants for financing to be approved. Naftali and his lawyer declined to comment on the lawsuit.
Previously, Naftali said he would not accept money from the program as he was not seeking rent from Ozsu. Under the rules of the program, if landlords refuse to accept money, the tenant is still safe from eviction.
The OTDA is not known for making timely and accurate decisions on ERAP requests. Leitman Bailey said he expects the agency to conclude the denial was a mistake.
If not, Ozsu still has a few leads to delay the eviction and further delay Naftali’s project. If his plea for help is successful, Ozsu would be eligible for up to 12 months of protection from deportation.
But the call itself might take some time. OTDA has a backlog of applications; it took eight months for the agency to decide on Ozsu.
Even if Ozsu’s appeal fails, Leitman Bailey could pursue his retaliatory eviction claim that Naftali tried to evict the tenant. Ozsu filed two HP actions, which include harassment claims and unaddressed repair reports.
The latest, filed last week, alleges the developer created “outrageous construction noise”, disabled the elevator to the laundry room, cut Ozsu’s mail delivery for months, flooded the lobby, shut down the tenant’s internet cables and shut off the electricity outside his apartment. .
Under the Rent Stabilization Act of 2019, landlords facing a retaliatory harassment claim bear the burden of providing a “credible explanation”. Failure forces them to offer a new lease or a renewal that extends up to one year.
Leitman Bailey said he didn’t know how long it would take to settle the court and administrative cases, but “it won’t be just a few months.”
“Stay tuned,” the attorney said.
Time is money for developers, but Naftali’s camp has signaled that it’s willing to wait for Ozsu to be released. A spokesperson said waiting a year or two to start construction could actually benefit the project, given that financing and construction costs are currently high and condo sales are slowing. Naftali bought 215 West 84th in June 2021 when borrowing was cheap.
“They’re not rushing to start construction,” the spokesperson said, “and allowing the justice system to do its job.”