It’s David and Goliath, Upper West Side edition.
A lone diehard tenant’s refusal to leave his Manhattan apartment is preventing a global real estate development investment firm from moving forward on a $70 million condo deal involving his building.
The renter, 52-year-old Ahmet Nejat Ozsu, says he is legally entitled to continue living in his apartment of 15 years. His new landlord, the Naftali Group, disagrees, and is now suing Ozsu and his lawyer for more than $25 million in response to their resistance and defense of it.
“He has a legal right to stay on the premises under ERAP,” Ozsu’s attorney, Adam Leitman Bailey, told The Post of New York State’s pandemic-era Emergency Rental Assistance Program, under which Ozsu may be allowed to live in the unit for another full year or more.
“Unfortunately, the landlord hasn’t accepted this,” Leitman Bailey continued.
Instead, he said, the developer has allegedly installed a loud fan (for the sole purpose of making an irritating din) and a security camera outside his door, stripped the floor of all fire safety signs, and hired workers to yell and spit at him when he exits and enters the building, all for the sole purpose of making Ozsu’s life at 215 W. 84th St. unbearable.
“Even though he’s knocking down the building, he has done construction directly opposite his dwelling every day,” Leitman Bailey added.
The Naftali Group purchased the 128-apartment building for $70 million last June, and while they’ve yet to file for new construction permits, local zoning expert and urban planner George M. Janes told the New York Times a complete demolition followed by the construction of a new residential tower is the most likely scenario.
“The current circumstance at 215 W. 84th St. represents a holdover situation, where a singular tenant occupying a market-rate apartment has not respected his contractual obligations after his month-to-month lease was lawfully terminated in December of 2021,” Y. David Scharf, the chairman of law firm Morrison Cohen, which is representing the developer, told The Post in a statement. “While the building owner respects the rights of tenants, especially as it pertains to the current programs in place for rental assistance in New York City, this is completely not the case here.”
Ozsu filed for ERAP after his market-rate, month-to-month lease expired in December, Scharf claimed, noting that Ozsu was not singled out: Every building tenant was served a termination notice. As well, Ozsu has been nonresponsive to an offer of comparable space at a comparable rent for two years and instead biding his time in hopes of receiving a seven-figure payout, an insider with knowledge of the situation told The Post.
“I have the right to be here,” Ozsu insisted to the Times of himself and his 13-year-old boxer-mix Penelope’s occupation of his 700-square-foot, $3,350 top-floor one bedroom, which boasts a private balcony. “And I have no place to go.”
For years Ozsu worked as a software engineer, but has been unemployed for some time now, and owes approximately $13,600 in back rent.
Now, in addition to the loss of his job and imminent loss of his apartment, he’s also dealing with a $25 million lawsuit Naftali recently filed against him. A Naftali attorney not part of that litigation is also now personally suing Leitman Bailey.
“I’ve never gotten that in 27 years,” he told The Post.
Scharf said that suit is in response to Leitman Bailey acting unethically towards the building owners.
If the situation sounds ridiculous, even by the insane standards of New York City real estate drama, Leitman Bailey said, it’s because it is: “I mostly represent developers. [Ozsu] was recommended to me by a developer who was disgusted that Naftali was making other developers look bad.”
He’s not even personally “a fan” of many tenant protection laws passed by the state legislature. “I’m a capitalist,” he proudly declared, “but I have to follow them, because they’re New York laws.”
Naftali, meanwhile, has “decided that they’re going to skirt them and bully and harass [Ozsu] out of the building instead of respecting his right to live there under the current laws that exist,” he said. “My client is really sweet and innocent, and he’s living in fear.”’