Mixed Use

By Patrick Hedlund

Isabella’s troubles

A landlord-tenant feud between a Lower East Side housing development and the neighborhood pizzeria that is its tenant keeps getting meatier, with charges of discrimination, corruption, recipe extortion and property destruction thickening the plot.

The year-and-a-half-old restaurant, Isabella’s Oven, on Grand St. near Essex St., was forced to shutter last week after the Seward Park Housing Corporation board said the eatery owed more than a year’s worth of back rent.

The establishment’s owner, Teresa Rizzo-Marino, stated that the co-op board unfairly forced the pizza joint to close after not reimbursing the eatery’s operators for renovation work performed on the premises. The back rent — which she estimated at about $61,000 — had not posed a problem, according to Rizzo-Marino, who claimed the board was previously unconcerned with the overdue amount and let her slide for months before proceeding with the eviction.

But after a new management company was brought in at the co-op, Rizzo-Marino claimed that the board followed through on a “personal vendetta” to boot the restaurant for, among other things, her mother-in-law’s membership on the co-op board and her employing of convicted felons inside the roughly 500-square-foot space.

Rizzo-Marino also claimed that a former Seward Park board member commented that she should move to Little Italy, sparking charges of discrimination. Another board member, she said, had confided plans to oust her while keeping the Isabella’s name and relieving past-due payments in exchange for the restaurant’s pizza recipes.

“They have made my life hell since I started there,” Rizzo-Marino told Mixed Use, adding that the board wouldn’t hear her out when she offered to pay $10,000 on the spot, or when her lawyers presented a three-point plan to salvage the situation. “It’s been horrible,” she said.

An attorney for the Seward Park board said the eviction was pursued only on the grounds of rent owed — $77,000 in total, according to the board — and that the restaurant consented to the January judgment regarding the arrears.

“They were treated fairly,” said Steven Anderson, of Anderson and Ochs, LLP, who disputed that Rizzo-Marino offered to pay $10,000. “We negotiated and tried to give them the opportunity to pay their arrears, and they didn’t, so we went forward with eviction proceedings.”

The Internet lit up with comments regarding the situation — including some from Rizzo-Marino herself — with a few alleging that the pizzeria people took a sledgehammer to the space prior to their departure. Rizzo-Marino denied the accusations, stating she only left with what she owned before turning in her keys over the weekend.

Now, with her “life savings” of $300,000 gone, Rizzo-Marino hopes to open another Isabella’s in the same neighborhood her grandparents first landed generations ago.

“They crippled me so much financially, I have to look for investors or someone to help me out,” she said. “We had a damn good product, and we were undersold… . They destroyed it for us.”

Slump’s silver lining

It’s a good time to be a renter in New York City.

Prices for rentals across Manhattan have fallen precipitously in some neighborhoods while remaining steady in others. But the undisputed truth is that with unemployment rising and finances frozen, landlords have become the prey as they clamber to fill their units.

According to a year-end analysis by the Real Estate Group New York, rents in Manhattan doorman and nondoorman units have shown a steady decline since September, with all apartment types combined decreasing an average of 4.375 percent year over year.

From December 2007 to December 2008, rents for doorman studio apartments suffered the greatest drop, falling 9.2 percent, while nondoorman one-bedrooms showed a 6.53 percent decrease. Doorman one-bedrooms followed closely, sinking 5.7 percent, and nondoorman two-bedrooms slipped 3.39 percent year over year. The only apartment type to show a slight rent increase over the same time period were doorman two-bedrooms, which went up by 0.61 percent.

The Downtown neighborhood to show the greatest decrease in price year over year was the East Village, which posted a 10.18 percent tumble in rents across all unit types. (Nondoorman two-bedrooms fell the most, 15.6 percent, with doorman one-bedrooms slipping 12.7 percent.) Rents on the Lower East Side slipped 3.06 percent overall, with doorman studios plummeting 20.9 percent and doorman one-bedrooms dropping 13.3 percent in a year. (Those numbers were offset by a 10.6 percent rent gain in nondoorman studios.)


oho suffered a 2.9 percent fall-off during the same time period, with rents for nondoorman two-bedrooms declining 7.9 percent and nondoorman studios falling 4.8 percent. Rents in Greenwich Village endured the smallest slip — just 0.48 percent — although doorman studio rents sunk by 5.1 percent year over year.

The four neighborhoods combined posted a 4.155 percent drop over all, keeping pace with the citywide average.