22 River Terrace Tenants Lament the Loss of Their Homes and Community

Moving trucks are a common sight in front of 22 River Terrace in Battery Park City, where most tenants must soon vacate the building. Photo: Carl Glassman/Tribeca Trib

Apr. 16, 2014

Nearly every day, moving vans jostle for space outside 22 River Terrace in Battery Park City, waiting for workers to haul out what is for some former tenants a decade or more of memory-laden possessions.

Esther Demeree is one of those tenants.

“I moved here from the Neth­erlands,” said Demeree, one of the original tenants in the 12-year-old, 324-unit building. “I’ve never been in any other building.”

Demeree said that she would have liked to have spent at least another decade in the apartment where she and her husband, Carl, are raising their two children.

But her landlord, Centurion Real Estate Partners, is acting on a clause written into most of the tenants’ leases: the right to cancel a lease and give a tenant 90 days notice to move out.

Centurion bought the building for $255 million last year from Rockrose Development and plans to turn it into condos.

Adding to the distress of the Dem­erees, who must leave by June 30, is the scramble for housing. Their family is among 15 to 20 families with children in P.S. 89, many of whom have found themselves competing for relatively few vacant apartments in the neighborhood.

“The hard part about it is that all the buildings around us raised their rents just because this is happening,” Demeree said. “If you don’t take the place, someone else will.”  (One agent told an apartment seeker that she was the fifth 22 River Terrace tenant to look at a nearby vacant unit.)

“Are we going to be in competition with all of our neighbors now?” said Christine Buckley, who, with her husband, Brian, and daughter Ava, has lived at 22 River Terrace for nine years.

The Buckleys were intent on staying in the neighborhood. Their daughter, Ava, 9, attends P.S. 89 and the couple are volunteer teachers at St. Joseph Chapel on Barclay Street. So they settled on another Battery Park City apartment, but have to pay 50 percent more for it.

Some tenants say the forced move will take them away from the sense of community and family friendliness that they have come to know at 22 River Terrace.

Julie, who declined to give her last name, has lived in the building for 12 years, and said losing an apartment is also about losing neighbors.

“We might not necessarily know everybody by name, but I know a lot of people,” she said, adding that her daughter, a third grader at P.S. 89, took it hard when she learned her family would have to move.

“When we got that letter, she started crying,” her mother said. “She’s very aware—she always wants to know where we’ve looked at apartments.”

“I’m explaining to my four-year-old, ‘This is the last weekend that you’re playing with  friends in the hallway,’” said tenant Seth Kyle.

Many residents said that 90 days is not enough time to plan their next step, and some were angry that they didn’t have a chance to buy their apartments.

In December, Centurion circulated a draft document, known as a red herring, with the “insider” apartment prices. But it is not final until  ap­proved by the state Attorney General’s office, which could take six months, well after most tenants will have moved out.

“We just wanted the opportunity to purchase our apartment, which we are now not going to have,” Brian Buckley said. “We just think that whole thing is totally unfair.”

“A very, very small percentage of people maybe will be able to get that,” he added.

At a Community Board 1 Battery Park City Committee meeting last month, 

Deborah Riegel, the attorney for Centurion, said the firm is completely within its legal perogative.

"Like it or not, it was their legal right to present the red herring,” Riegel said. “It is also their legal right to vacate units in order to effect the business plan that they have for the building. That is not to say that the owner is not willing to work with the existing tenant.”

Various accommodations have been made for 75 tenants to date, according to John Tashjian, a principal of Centurion Real Estate Partners.

“We are immensely sympathetic to families with children in school and we have offered to extend leases through the end of the school year,” Tashjian said in a statement. “In addition to offering to extend leases, we have allowed a number of tenants to break their lease early without penalty if they have found an alternative lease prior to the end of their lease with us.”

Tashjian also pointed out that leases are not being terminated for tenants with leases that don’t expire until late this year or into 2015. If the red herring is accepted, they would be able to renew their leases or buy their apartments.

But some tenants say that although the owner is following the letter of the law, the treatment is unfair on a human level.

Some say they fault Rockrose for giving tenants new leases that they knew would likely be terminated by the buyer.

“Rockrose put this rider in their leases for their tenants who have been tenants for years, knowing exactly what was going to happen, that they were going to sell it and that the new owner would exercise that 90-day clause,” said Kim Landman, who has lived in 22 River Terrace for about a year with her husband, Charles Rosenbaum, and infant daughter.

“I get real estate ventures and making a profit,” Landman added. “But when you are in the business of housing families, there should be some consideration given for people’s lives.”