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How a Lone Tenant Is Holding Up a $70 Million Condo Deal

Ahmet Nejat Ozsu won’t budge.

For 15 years, he has lived in the same apartment — a one-bedroom with an enviable private deck on the top floor of a building on the Upper West Side.

So when a developer, the Naftali Group, bought the Manhattan building for $70 million last June and told tenants that they had to move, Mr. Ozsu made plans to stay. He could not be swayed with a buyout offer of $30,000, an eviction notice or even a $25 million lawsuit that Naftali recently filed against him. In April, the new landlord placed an industrial air filter outside Mr. Ozsu’s door, and the blower has been droning nonstop, driving him and his 13-year-old boxer-mix, Penelope, up the wall.

Still, Mr. Ozsu won’t move. “It’s two things: I have the right to be here, and I have no place to go,” he said.

Naftali Group says Mr. Ozsu is angling for a seven-figure payout and has put its multimillion dollar investment in limbo, setting off a landlord-tenant stalemate that is the stuff of legend in New York City real estate. But the pandemic has added a new twist: A renter protection enacted to prevent evictions during the crisis could help drag out the standoff for years.

Under normal circumstances, Mr. Ozsu, 52, might have already been evicted from the building at 215 West 84th Street. His apartment is not rent stabilized, and like many of his neighbors he was on a month-to-month lease that the new landlord was not obligated to renew.

But until recently, Mr. Ozsu, a freelance software engineer, was unemployed. In January, Mr. Ozsu applied for the Emergency Rental Assistance Program, a state program created during the pandemic to help tenants pay overdue rent. In most cases, a tenant cannot be evicted while their application is open. If Mr. Ozsu’s request for aid is approved, he could be entitled to stay in the apartment for at least another year — time he says he’ll need to build up savings from a job he began in March to meet the income requirements of other rental buildings.

A security camera was recently installed in the hallway outside Mr. Ozsu’s apartment.
Credit…Karsten Moran for The New York Times

Out of the 128 apartments, just 16 still have occupants, said Y. David Scharf, the chairman of Morrison Cohen, a law firm representing the developer. Mr. Ozsu is the only tenant who has not agreed to move, he said.

Mr. Ozsu and Adam Leitman Bailey, his lawyer, believe that the air filter and a security camera recently installed in the hallway outside his apartment, trained on his front door, are bullying tactics.

“It sounds like a jet,” Mr. Ozsu said. “It feels like it’s at the back of your head all the time.”

Mr. Scharf said the air filter “is actually for his health and safety,” although there wasn’t active construction near the apartment during a recent visit.

“There has been no harassment, period, full stop,” Mr. Scharf said, adding that there are several cameras in the building. The one near Mr. Ozsu’s apartment was installed because of “general security issues,” Mr. Scharf said, citing an incident between Mr. Ozsu and one of the building’s workers. Mr. Ozsu said he called the police after the worker became aggressive with him over a parking dispute.

An industrial air filter, left, was recently placed outside Mr. Ozsu’s apartment. “It sounds like a jet,” he said.
Credit…Karsten Moran for The New York Times

Mr. Ozsu moved into an apartment in the building, called the Eagle Court, in 2006 on the recommendation of a friend who had lived there. He landed the coveted top-floor unit a year later, with its deck that overlooks the Upper West Side. His job as a software engineer helped him keep up with rising rents through the years. By October 2021, however, Mr. Ozsu was unemployed, had depleted his savings and could no longer pay the $3,350 rent on his 700-square-foot apartment.

The complex once was a thriving community, former residents said. In 1984, Rockrose Development converted a row of disparate buildings, including the onetime Borden Milk Company dairy (later converted to a garage) and a former Con Edison substation, into the Eagle Court apartments.

The odd union led to interesting design choices: studios that range from 400 to 1,000 square feet with 12-foot ceilings; duplexes and triplexes with private gardens; dim hallways with steep stairs that led to sunlit corridors.

Attracted to the building’s idiosyncrasies, many tenants lived in the building for years, Mr. Ozsu said.

“It was like Melrose Place, without the sexual scandals,” he said, recalling one couple who hosted open-door happy hours in their apartment on weekdays. Some days Mr. Ozsu would lean over his deck and holler at his downstairs neighbors to join him for impromptu barbecues.


Mr. Ozsu’s front door was covered by protective plastic.
Credit…Karsten Moran for The New York Times

A former resident, who asked not to be named because she “doesn’t want drama” with the new landlord, said that she left several months before the end of her lease because the building was quickly emptying and no longer felt like home.

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