Unlike late-night comics, I have nothing against lawyers. My father is an attorney—a real estate lawyer, in fact, so I became familiar with the concepts of zoning, easements, and planned unit developments (a.k.a. PUDs) at a frighteningly young age.
But I also know that lawsuits can be a time-consuming and expensive pursuit—with no guarantee of success—for everyone involved, from the plaintiffs and defendants to their legal counsel (despite the massive legal fees paid in class action suits).
The classic example from literature? Jarndyce and Jarndyce, the never-ending court case of Charles Dickens' Bleak House. “This scarecrow of a suit has, in course of time, become so complicated, that no man alive knows what it means. … Scores of people have deliriously found themselves made parties in Jarndyce and Jarndyce, without knowing how or why … but Jarndyce and Jarndyce still drags its weary length before the Court, perennially hopeless.” That's the image that came to mind as I edited this month's Done Deal on the aftereffects of the Peter Cooper Village and Stuyvesant Town purchase in Manhattan. Residents, worried about rent hikes, are suing the former and new owners of the moderately priced property.
It's an understandable response, but also, I fear, a fruitless one. After covering housing for seven years, I appreciate both sides of an issue such as this one. Companies need to make money, or they won't survive. That goes for both the seller of this property, MetLife, and the new owners, Tishman Speyer and BlackRock. But people also need a place to live, and this 11,000-unit property on Manhattan's East Side has been a moderate-income renters' haven for decades. If it goes upscale or condo, where are ordinary New Yorkers with ordinary incomes supposed to live?
Do let us know when you find an answer to this growing American social problem.
All sarcasm aside, this New York transaction highlights what is an extraordinarily difficult issue for everyday people and real estate companies alike. So does the lawsuit, which has become the option of first, not last, resort in so many disagreements. With Bleak House open on my desk, I find myself hoping that the residents and real estate executives involved in this modern-day dispute soon find a workable solution. After all, “Jarndyce and Jarndyce has passed into a joke. That is the only good that has ever come of it.” There's no need for Peter Cooper Village and Stuyvesant Town to suffer such a Dickensian fate.
Alison Rice, Editor
PEOPLE & PLACES