Co-op apartments in a luxury doorman building on Billionaires’ Row are selling for as low as $100,000 for a studio and $659,000 for a three-bedroom penthouse with a terrace.
But the glitch in the only-in-New York scenario is that owners in the 324-unit building must pay a combined $280 million to buy the land under the structure, or face an additional $26 million a year in ground rent on top of the current $4.4 million a year. If they don’t cough up, they face losing their homes.
Carnegie House at 100 W. 57th St., at the corner of Sixth Avenue, is a 21-story, gray brick structure that resembles many other early 1960s, middle-class Manhattan apartment buildings. Its “luxury” status seems modest compared with neighboring giants, such as the 1,550-foot-tall Central Park Tower to the west and 111 W. 57th St. to the east; units in both new projects cost up to $30 million.
But Carnegie House has all the drama. It sits on land that’s owned by David Werner’s and Rubin Schron’s real estate firm the Werner Group. Co-op apartment owners pay ground rent to Werner Group, which bought the land for about $270 million in 2014.
A contract between the co-op and the land’s previous owner included a formula for determining the annual rent beyond the lease expiration in March 2025 — which would have been only $53.4 million.
But the purchase automatically valued the land at $270 million, Werner said, claiming the rent should be based on that much higher price. A newly filed lawsuit claims that the co-op board agreed — to the detriment of shareholders.
Not all Carnegie House residents — many of whom live on fixed incomes, according to insiders — can afford either to pay their share of the land purchase or to pay the enormously jacked-up rent.
“Up to 90% of residents, some of whom have lived there for 50 years, stand to lose their homes,” one insider said.
Resistance came to a head in a suit filed by Birinder S. Madan, a resident since 2003, who is suing all 10 of the co-op board members, as well as consulting firm JM Zell Partners. The suit, filed on behalf of the other shareholders, claims that the board, rather than fight for shareholders’ interests, is playing ball with Werner’s “illicit” scheme to overcharge residents.
His suit, filed by lawyer Massimo F. D’Angelo and several other attorneys, charges that JM Zell was supposedly hired to negotiate better terms with Werner but instead endorsed its high-priced offer. The board thus “became a willing participant in Werner’s scheme” to force residents to pay “exorbitant additional sums” to keep their apartments or to give them up so that Werner can put up a new building on the site.
As a result, shareholders “live in a perpetual state of fear that they will be uprooted from their homes,” the suit claims.
Key to the dispute is how the land should be valued.
Madan claims that the rent owed to Werner should be linked to the “fair market value of the land underneath Carnegie House,” according to a renewal provision in the original ground lease.
He added that the “astronomical price” Werner paid was based on a “developer fantasy” of what the site would be worth if it were vacant and able to support an all-new building.
At a tense shareholders meeting on Tuesday night, board members said that talks with Werner have been ongoing after they went on hold during the early months of COVID-19.
They said they held the “most productive in-person meeting to date” with Werner on June 15, and the landowner has since “indicated a willingness to sell at improved pricing.”
But the meeting ended in fireworks with angry exchanges between lawyer D’Angelo and board members.
With the clock ticking down on the ground lease expiration, apartment owners wasted no time to start bailing out right after the board sent shareholders a “doomsday letter” on June 14, 2019, and followed it up on June 19 of that year at a meeting that spelled out Werner’s terms.
Some 50 units have traded since them, according to public records, at prices that seem too low to be real — including several for just $100,000 and most under $300,000.
The largest price was $695,000 for an 1,800-square-foot penthouse with a terrace overlooking Sixth Avenue. Such a unit in a normal co-op without a ground lease would fetch several million dollars.
Scotty Sheriff, a Charleston, SC-based businessman, bought the penthouse in October 2020. Unlike some Carnegie residents, he has always wanted to buy the land.
“I thought we would just buy the land lease and be done with it,” he said. “[But] our board has been sitting around for two years, using COVID-19 as an excuse and not making any counter offers and spending money on professional fees. They should have made an aggressive counter offer.”
Board president Richard Hirsch declined to comment.
The board’s lawyer, Laurence S. Tauber of Cohen Tauber Spievack & Wagner, told The Post: “The board believes the allegations [in the suit] are baseless and without foundation and it will vigorously defend them. They are confident they’ll be successful.”