Gottlieb tenants rail about rent, rats, no repairs


By Albert Amateau

More than 100 people — anxious residential and commercial tenants of the estate of the late Bill Gottlieb — met on Feb. 21 to complain to a citywide tenants group and an aide to State Senator Tom Duane about deplorable conditions, no repairs and notices of huge rent increases.

Most of the worried tenants were from residential locations in the Gottlieb properties stretching from the Village to the Lower East Side and Upper East Side, but a few commercial tenants were among them.

“The list of problems is endless,” said one woman who lives in a Gottlieb building on Norfolk St. “There are rats in the trash as big as he is,” she said, pointing to her little black dog she brought to the meeting at the Judson Church House on Thompson St.

Leaks in the ceiling of her top-floor apartment, a broken staircase and a missing security door from her building’s foyer were also on the list of problems.

“We can’t get the names of whom to contact at the landlord’s office,” said another residential tenant.

“We’ve been trying to get a lease for three years and haven’t been able to do it,” said a resident of W. 10th St.

Another resident, who lives on Waverly Pl., said he finally was able at the end of last year to get a lease, but when he called the office of William Gottlieb Management Company to check on it, “I was told there was no lease,” he added.

“Nobody in this company answers my questions: ‘Who is going to renew my lease? What is the rent?’” said the owner of a W. 11th St. restaurant. The restaurant owner said later that on Feb. 1, instead of his usual $3,200 rent bill, the Gottlieb firm had sent him a letter demanding more than $60,000, calling it a balance brought forward from the previous four months when the rent had been doubled without notice.

A resident of a Gottlieb building at 400 E. 53rd St. said that despite a sign that the building is fully rented, many apartments are sealed and vacant.

“I live on a floor alone; four apartments — only one occupied,” she said.

For the most part, tenants who spoke at the meeting requested that their names not be printed in this article, for fear of worsening their relations with the landlord.

Gottlieb, who died in October 1999, was known for wearing rumpled clothes, driving a brown station wagon with windows missing and never selling or improving his real estate holdings of more than 150 properties.

His sister, Molly Bender, was his sole heir and ran the real estate business with her son Neil Bender until she died on July 1, 2007. Neil Bender has been running the business since his mother died, pursuant to her will that named him and his father, Irving, as executors and sole beneficiaries. Irving Bender has not been active in the business.

But Molly Bender’s daughter, Cheryl Dier, and Dier’s son, Michael Corbett, who were not mentioned in Molly Bender’s will, went to Surrogate’s Court charging that Neil Bender was not fit to run the Gottlieb properties “by reason of substance abuse, dishonesty, improvidence and want of understanding of the duties and requirements of a fiduciary office.”

Corbett, who lives in Manhattan Plaza on W. 42nd St., is a personal trainer, and his mother, Dier, lives in Maryland where she works in a department store. Last summer, Corbett held a news conference outside the triangular 1828 Northern Dispensary on Waverly Pl., a vacant Gottlieb property. He said if he ran the business he’d reopen the historic building and make it an integrated Eastern-Western healing center “for people who couldn’t otherwise afford it.”

Corbett charged that Neil Bender had undue influence on his mother, making her cut him and Dier out of her will and a share in the $1 billion to $2 billion Gottlieb real estate kingdom.

However, Surrogate Renee Roth on Feb. 19 dismissed Corbett’s and his mother’s petition and called for settlement of a decree granting Neil Bender and Irving Bender letters of administration of the Gottlieb estate.

Lin-Hua Wu, a spokesperson for William Gottlieb Management, said this week, “We are pleased that Judge Roth decided to grant permanent letters of administration to Irving and Neil Bender in the estate of William Gottlieb. The ruling supports what we have always known to be true, that the suit against Irving and Neil is completely without merit and has no basis in fact or law. We are gratified with the judge’s decision and look forward to continue focusing on the business.”

Nevertheless, Carl Mayer, Corbett’s attorney, who attended the Feb. 21 meeting at Judson Church House, told tenants that there was no Gottlieb administrator yet. Mayer said later that the Roth decision was not a final order and that he would appeal her decision.

But most of the anxious tenants at the Feb. 21 meeting were not interested in the family struggle. They broke up into groups at the end to listen to Joe Catron, an organizer with the Metropolitan Council on Housing — the organization that called the meeting — and Romeo Ymaley, of State Senator Tom Duane’s district office staff, talk about organizing tenants associations for specific Gottlieb buildings and forming one comprehensive tenants association covering all Gottlieb properties.

Speaking later in a telephone interview, Duane said, “We want to make sure that tenants in Gottlieb buildings are apprised of their rights and that they know what recourses they have it there are problems with their buildings or their apartments.”

Regarding the tenants’ concerns, Wu said, “The Met Council on Housing did not inform us of any meeting, so we are not in a position to comment on it.” The Gottlieb spokesperson added, “We take pride in being responsive to and maintaining open lines of communication with our tenants and we respect all laws governing the rental of property in New York City. William Gottlieb Management is actively maintaining or improving all of its properties. We respond to requests for services and other issues in a timely manner.”

Tenants at the Feb. 21 meeting, however, remained anxious. Met Council on Housing is sponsoring another Gottlieb tenants meeting in a week or so.

Many small Gottlieb buildings on picturesque West Village and Gansevoort Market streets have fewer than six apartments and therefore have never been subject to any rent regulation. One tenant who moved into his West Village apartment in 1975 recalled his first monthly rent of $425 and said he now pays more than $3,000 after a $1,000 increase in September.

Another residential tenant recalled that he was in financial straits several years ago.

“Bill told me, ‘I have to raise your rent — what do you think of a dollar a month?’ And that’s what he did,” the tenant said, recalling that Gottlieb seemed to wear the same khaki trousers every day for years.

Real estate observers have been predicting that Gottlieb rents would rise dramatically and that some buildings would be sold, driven by the need to pay considerable inheritance taxes, by property values and by real estate taxes.