By Skye H. McFarlane
The tiny tots will be sticking around at 333 Rector Pl., but it looks as though most of the adult-size tenants will be out by end of September unless legal action intercedes.
Relations have become increasingly testy between the market-rate tenants at 333 Rector and the building’s new owner, Buttonwood, which wants the tenants out by the end the year in order to renovate the building from top to bottom. Attempts to bring the two sides together for negotiations have largely unraveled and tenants continue to complain to the press and the community board about mistreatment at the hands of their new landlords.
The silver lining in the messy saga is that due to a long-term commercial lease, the Battery Park City Day Nursery will remain as a building tenant for at least the next seven years.
“[Buttonwood] said that they would honor our lease and there’s really no way that they could not honor that,” said Denise Cordivano, the co-director of the nursery, which has been in Battery Park City for two decades. “They told us that they are enlarging the apartments and playing up the daycare as an amenity. They want families to move in. We just really want to stay.”
Cordivano said she wasn’t worried about weathering the building’s gut renovation, since the daycare is on a far end of the structure and the space will be closed off from the rest of the building once renovations begin. She said she is worried that the nursery may lose some of its students as the 333 Rector tenants are forced to find new housing.
So far, the affected families have found new apartments in the neighborhood, so she is hoping for the best. Nevertheless, Cordivano and her co-director Karen Klomp have taken care to prepare for the worst, in case Buttonwood reneges on its promises or the renovations make the building unbearable.
“We’re going into this with our eyes wide open,” Cordivano said. “I like to believe the best in people, but we have been in touch with our attorneys and we are always alert and open to new opportunities for expanding the school.”
For 333 Rector tenants who hope to stay in the building beyond their current lease terms, lawyers may be the only option. Ever since Buttonwood purchased the building from Rockrose in early spring, tenants have railed against the new landlord’s policy of invoking the 60-day eviction clauses written into some leases and only renewing expired leases for short terms, with substantial rent hikes.
Some tenants desperately want to remain in their apartments and would welcome the chance to purchase their homes. In February, Andrew Heiberger, the C.E.O. of Buttonwood, told the Battery Park City Broadsheet that his company was planning a non-eviction condo conversion at 333 Rector. Buttonwood has since backed off that statement, saying the company has not yet decided whether to convert the building to condos or re-rent it.
Tenants believe that this indecision is simply a convenient way to skirt the state Martin Act, which protects tenants from being immediately evicted during a condo conversion and gives tenants the right to purchase their apartments. However, the protections do not kick in until a developer has officially filed a conversion application, which Buttonwood has not done.
“A lot of people believed [Heiberger] when he made those statements in the Broadsheet. I myself would have bought my apartment,” said Tim Cavanuagh, who moved into 333 Rector shortly after 9/11. “I get it; it’s a business decision on his part, but at least keep your word. Don’t make statements and then screw a whole bunch of people.”
Other tenants, who are willing even eager to move out have said that Buttonwood has not been flexible in adjusting their leases to make that process convenient.
The tenants have asked repeatedly to meet with the developer to try and work out some of the issues, but to date, the only face-to-face meeting between the two groups has been a June 19 Community Board 1 meeting. That encounter turned ugly when Brad Meadows, the developer’s communications rep, tried to clarify some technical inaccuracies in a board resolution supporting the tenants. The tenants booed Meadows and shouted profanities until board chair Julie Menin silenced them.
According to Bill Love, a 333 Rector tenant and C.B. 1 member, there has been little progress in setting up a meeting since then. His hopes for negotiations recently sagged when Buttonwood’s lawyers demanded a list of the tenant association members and their specific objectives as a prerequisite for a meeting.
“I would say that this is like trying to negotiate with North Korea, but that might be an insult to the North Koreans since they seem to be cooperating these days,” Love wrote in an email Tuesday.
Love said that 60-day clause tenants are currently being asked to leave at the end of August, while tenants with short-term lease renewals will be out by the end of September. Love’s own lease expires naturally at the end of September and he said that he recently received a letter telling him the lease would not be renewed and that he would face legal action if he stayed in his apartment past the expiration date.
Buttonwood representatives refused to comment on their dealings with the residents and the nursery.
However, the tenants have not ruled out legal action of their own as a group and, in some cases, as individuals. Cavanaugh said that while he can afford to find another apartment, he may try to stay at 333 Rector just out of principle and force Buttonwood to remove him through legal means.
“I think they’ve forgotten that the saying goes ‘truth, justice and the American way,’ not ‘dollars and dollars and cents,’” Cavanaugh said. “This is a great neighborhood, but it’s going to become a different place when they’re through.”