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The Berserkonomics of One Rent-Stabilized Apartment Building

No. 23: Julia Pasternak and Bobbi Bennett.  

Apt. 23
SIZE: two-br
RENT: $1,780
Julia Pasternak, who sells photo-luminescent emergency lights, is the one who claims to have been bitten by the supers’ dog. She and friend, art dealer Bobbi Bennett, are generally dissatisfied with the state of the unit. When Julia shows me around, the apartment indeed looks shabby compared with its equivalents on other floors: The bathroom has a raw cement floor, and wall tiles are missing.

Apt. 24
SIZE: three-Br
RENT: about $1,100
Twenty-four, who declined to participate in this story, is Fourteen’s current employer (in an arrangement brokered by Weinstein).

Apt. 25
SIZE: three-Br
RENT: about $1,000

SIZE: two-Br

SIZE: one-br
RENT: $1,309
Chris Murray from No. 22, who used to pay $1,600 a month there, is enjoying a lower rent here. His accidental benefactor was Ginger O’Neill, a singer-songwriter who has just shipped off to Niger with the Peace Corps. O’Neill and her appointed successor started out on a sour note: Murray would bang on the ceiling whenever she’d practice. But with Weinstein’s assistance, she says, “We kinda hit it off.” When O’Neill moved out, her plants found a new home next door, at No. 28.

No. 28: Alexander Stone Dale  

Apt. 28
SIZE: two-br
RENT: $795
Alexander Stone Dale, a central-casting kind of cabbie (raconteur, autodidact, and conspiracy theorist), moved into his two-bedroom in 1993—“back when you’d call a real-estate ad and be the only guy answering it.” He started out at $495 a month split two ways with a roommate. He now pays $795, not without difficulty. His income—which, ironically, comes from New York’s other super-regulated sphere, livery—has been stagnant for seventeen years. Alexander confesses he has fallen as far as four months behind in rent, which Weinstein accepts with near-angelic patience. “Lately, I’ve been about a month and a half late,” he says, “which I consider a personal achievement.”

And...the Owner
Three or four times a week, Weinstein drives 120 miles from her home outside Hartford, Connecticut, to her office in a building near this one. “My father wouldn’t think in a million years I’d be doing this,” she says in her soothing adenoidal New Yorkese. (Tenants, I noticed, tend to lapse into droll impressions of Weinstein when quoting her.) In 1988, when Donald Stein passed away, her initial impulse was to sell. Instead, over the past eighteen years, Weinstein steadily refashioned herself from a free-spirited daughter who had little interest in her father’s trade into the kind of landlord who earnestly frets about a tenant’s bird feeder. (“It’s out on the fire escape, which is illegal—but what am I going to do, ask her to take it away? It’s a bird feeder!”) She says her grandmother talked her out of the sale, insisting that the family had a commitment to the tenants and the neighborhood.

Several tenants have a different theory. They suggest Weinstein may have been driven by a guilty desire to erase a squalid bit of the family legacy. The paterfamilias went into real-­estate management after a successful run in the shoe trade and was sometimes even credited with inventing the term “East Village.” The moniker, borrowing some Bleecker-and-Macdougal cachet for what was then an extension of the Lower East Side, first appeared in one of Stein’s company ads. Unfortunately, Stein also gained a certain infamy among his tenants. “Oh, he was a monster,” says Kevin Malony, the theater director in No. 18. “He came to suck people dry. It took Weinstein several years, but she turned things around. She is a true philanthropist, one of the few people who keep the fabric of the East Village alive.”

The weight of her father’s notoriety could explain Weinstein’s dedication. In the eighties, she was almost pathologically bent on keeping the building “clean,” at one point going so far as to hire a private security guard (an unheard-of thing back then). She stuck with the blighted neighborhood through two waves of landlord flight, the drugs, and the riots, and remains, with a couple of notable exceptions, beloved by the very people who hand her half of their monthly income.

How is Weinstein faring financially? She couldn’t be persuaded to disclose exact figures, but a combination of basic math and light sleuthing places her total rent roll at an average of roughly $1,100 per unit, or some $30,800 per month—with the newbies’ deregulated apartments evening out the veterans’ bargains. This makes for an impressive yearly revenue of $369,600. But once you subtract the costs, it’s another story.

In 1986, the real-estate tax on the building was $11,517.76; it is now $67,160, a 580 percent increase. This, of course, is fair enough, because the value of the property itself has skyrocketed, even while the rent rolls haven’t. The cost of oil heat, in 2002, set back Weinstein $14,540; by 2005, it ballooned to $51,250—a 350 percent increase. The water-and-sewer tax runs $13,000 a year, insurance adds another $14,000, and renovations to the deregulated apartments took up $50,000 last year. Electricity to light hallways and power boilers cost $3,000. Last but not least, everyday repairs and maintenance relieve the owner of another $55,000. Weinstein’s actual profit from the building, then, is about $116,000 a year.

The landlord: Gail Stein Weinstein  

Looking at this figure in the context of a market that’s minted more millionaires than oil, one can’t help but ponder the same thing tenant advocates yelled at Weinstein during the RGB hearing: Why not sell? According to John Cicero of Miller Cicero LLC, a real-estate appraisal and consulting firm, an East Village building like Weinstein’s could easily fetch up to $5.6 million, minus fees and taxes. If Weinstein, who has no mortgage on the property, were to succumb, she could live off a modest 5 percent interest on the full sale amount, earning $280,000 a year without breaking a sweat. But when I raise the prospect, she seems genuinely puzzled. “What would I do?” she says. “This is my job.”

“Plus,” she adds, “I missed the boat. The height of the market was last spring.”


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