The story of Robbins’s alleged persecution reads likes some uniquely Upper West Side farce. After she decided to fight her eviction notice in court, the management produced a video of several ants crawling around Robbins’s planters. Robbins responded with a video of countless ants in the building’s courtyard. Robbins’s lawyer, Darryl Vernon, who has been representing Apthorp tenants in skirmishes with the old owners for over ten years and won the Cyndi Lauper case, is convinced the issue is really the conversion. Mann insists that Robbins doesn’t properly maintain her apartment.
As a top-floor tenant, Robbins may have special cause for concern. The red herring makes oblique references to the fate of the Apthorp’s roof: “The Building presently includes approximately 50,508 square feet of unused Development Rights and Sponsor is considering the construction of penthouses on the roof of the Building,” reads the section entitled “Special Risks to Be Considered by Purchasers.” The included property description by Design Profile Inc., an architecture consulting firm, is even more cryptic: “According to the management the replacement of the entire roof with new is seriously in the agenda.” Another top-floor tenant, who rents at market rate, says Herbitter “made it very clear” her options were to buy in or get out once her two-year lease is up next April. I asked Mann and Herbitter what their designs on the Apthorp roof were. Mann’s answer would hardly comfort Robbins: “We’re exploring options. Nothing has been finalized. They can read what they want into that.” The elevator guy had his own take. “They’re gonna put a pool on the roof,” he informed me, and cracked up.
What will happen to the Apthorp? Mann claims that “everything will be handled legally and properly,” but it’s hard not to foresee the same scenario we’ve watched play out in Manhattan time and again—if never on quite such a grand stage. When a new landlord buys a rental building and turns it condo, longtime tenants tend to get nudged out, be it through perfectly legal rent hikes, decontrol, or good old-fashioned intimidation. Hand-wringing about the disappearing “community character” normally ensues.
Does anything in this equation change if the building in question is full of well-heeled, lawyered-up residents? Probably not. The new owners are even better heeled, and determined, one can safely say, to make their investment pay off. Besides, the value of a property—sentimental notions of scruffy Upper West Side havens aside—is, like it or not, whatever the market will bear. This is New York. Who’s to say someone won’t pay $100,000 one day to rent in the Apthorp? Or lay out $20 million to purchase a condo there?
Even the current tenants, hopeful as they are, seem to have a sense of where this story is headed. “Everyone has a feeling we’re in Act One,” says Lynn Grossman. “I just hope it ends better than Titus Andronicus.”