A Manhattan man insists he is staying put after his building was sold, refusing to move out and thereby stalling a major $70 million redevelopment plan.
There have been holdouts like him in the past throughout the city, but unlike many of the previous cases, his apartment on West 84th Street near Broadway isn't rent-controlled or stabilized — but COVID protections are keeping a roof over his head.
Ahmet Nejat Ozsu has shared his Upper West Side apartment with his dog, Penelope, for 15 years. But when new owners took over the building, his month-to-month lease expired.
Since then, Ozsu has been battling to stay in the apartment, saying the COVID-19 pandemic is a unique circumstance.
"I need time. I need time to find a job and a place," he told NBC New York. "I didn’t have the income, a steady income. I hadn’t worked in two years."
Ozsu says COVID cut into his income as a self-employed software engineer and says he hasn’t been able to qualify for a new rental. But the owner of the building said that Ozsu hasn’t had a lease since 2017.
A lawyer for the building’s owner says he owes rent since October — with the owner saying that without a valid lease and being many months behind on rent, Ozsu needs to go. The owner also filed a $25 million lawsuit against him, claiming the tenant is "maliciously trying to thwart and impede" the development, as they plan to redevelop and convert the property into condos.
"He has no legal right to be in that unit," said attorney David Scharf, who represents the building owner.
"There’s two things that legally put me here: During the moratorium, there’s a moratorium. And then the ERAP, which is still open," he said.
ERAP stands for “Emergency Rental Assistance Program,” the federally funded New York state program to provide rent help for those affected by COVID. Ozsu filed a claim in January.
"He’ll wait months, many months, and then the money will come in. And he’ll have a safe tenancy for probably about a year. Now he has a retaliatory victim claim which will probably give him two years," said Ozsu's attorney, Adam Leitman Bailey.
Scharf said that the building's owner offered Ozsu an apartment in a comparable building at a comparable rent for two years, but said he hasn't responded to the offer yet.
All other tenants in the building have reached an agreement with the building management, making Ozsu the last tenant standing.
But his story as a holdout isn’t unique in NYC. When construction was underway at 15 Central Park West, one tenant holdout reportedly received a $17M payout in the end.
"I don’t look to the future, because that’s a future answer. I’m looking at what’s going on right now and what I need to do," Ozsu said.
"One day, they can make him an offer we can’t refuse, right? It could happen. I’m not counting that out," said Bailey. "But for today and tomorrow and right now, we’re fighting for his life and his ability to live peacefully & that’s all we care about now."