They were the little guys—middle-class people in a city of vast wealth, afterthoughts in the biggest real-estate deal in U.S. history—and in New York, when it comes to real estate, the little guy tends to get the short end. The big guys, in this case, were Rob and Jerry Speyer of Tishman Speyer. A group led by the Speyers paid MetLife $5.4 billion for the 11,000 apartments of Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village and intended to deregulate many of the 80-acre complex’s apartments—it was the only way the deal made sense. The Stuy Town Nine didn’t intend to make themselves into symbols—mostly, they were just worried about losing their homes. But after the deal was signed in October 2006, Tishman immediately started raising rents, in some cases by more than 30 percent. A lawyer named Leonard Grunstein who’d worked on a competing tenants’ bid for the complex saw an opportunity and began collaborating with a few Stuy Town residents about a possible suit. The effort soon mushroomed. “I felt like it was worth a shot,” says Evan Horisk, a 29-year-old multimedia producer who now lives in the financial district. “What happened to us was unfair. Someone had to stand up and fight.”
They filed suit in January 2007, and as they pushed forward, their aims grew. “If there was an injustice, I wanted to know about it,” says Beth Rosner, a theatrical manager and single mom. “And if we were found right in the case, that would mean more middle-class people could stay in New York.”
In October, New York’s highest court ruled that the rents on 4,000 apartments in the complex had been raised illegally, showing that sometimes, even in New York City, David can get the best of Goliath (although in truth, after the market meltdown, Goliath was already not having a very good day).