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Renters Want Windfall to Make Way for Prep School

Renters Want Windfall to Make Way for Prep School

The Wall Street Journal 5/27/2010

By Dawn Wotapka

A private girls’ school is finding that it’s not easy to grow in the tony Upper East Side.

In March, the Brearley School, whose big-name alumni include Caroline Kennedy and Kyra Sedgwick,  abandoned an attempt to expand into a nearby apartment-building housing rent-stabilized tenants, according to the New York Post. Now, it is trying again with different buildings.

Brearley purchased three tenements–70, 72 and 74 East End Ave.–that it aims to replace with an annex. The purchase ends an “extensive, decade-long” search for “vital additional teaching space,” says Dr. Stephanie Hull, head of the school, in a statement to Developments. Ms. Hull promises that the school will respect its neighbors and minimize disruption to the surrounding community.

But the surrounding community aims to disrupt the plan. Already, some of the remaining 15 tenants in the three buildings have indicated they’re not going anywhere.  “We’re going to fight this,” David Rozenholc, the tenants’ lawyer, says in the Post.

In many areas of the country, someone buys a building and the tenants eventually move–not so in the Big Apple, where lower-priced rent-stabilized apartments are coveted and rarely given up. Landlords grumble that New York is notoriously renter friendly, something that will continue if Governor David Paterson has his way. Wednesday, he introduced an amendment package to the state’s rent laws that, among other things, makes it harder to charge market-rate rents.

“How do they expect a landlord to survive?” asks Brian Chipetine, who owns an 18-unit building on Sullivan Street in lower Manhattan with 10 stabilized tenants.

It is typically difficult to push out such occupants, many who could not afford to stay in the community.  Brearley will have to deal with Elizabeth Taylor, a 57-year-old graphic designer, who told the Post: “I lived in New York over half a century. If I’m forced out of this building, there is no way I could afford to live here.”

A longtime Carnegie Hall tenant wants a whopping $10 million to move out of her studio in a building slated for uses including classroom space. Even a public benefit isn’t easy. The New York Times has documented the difficulties – and high cost – of relocating renters to make way for the Second Avenue subway, which would be used by millions of people. Brearley would only be helping a several hundred students each year.

With tuition topping $35,000 a year and a privileged alumni base, the school will likely have to buy its way out of this situation. Indeed, one resident tells the Post that he wants enough to finance a two- or three-bedroom in the area for his family. “If they pay well, how upset can we be?”

Readers, do renters deserve a windfall to move? Should landlords be allowed to simply not renew leases?