Find a temporary rental apartment on the Upper West Side to escape the noisy construction for $2,999 per month. Which option did this couple choose?
One that eventually led to a lawsuit against them, claiming that they owed at least $35,000 in back rent and costs.
Joyce Cohen, a New York Times contributor who writes “The Hunt” — a weekly column that long chronicles the challenges locals face in finding a new home in New York City that’s notoriously expensive and competitive — has a real estate headache of its own: charges against her for Unpaid rent at a property near Central Park in a sublease deal, which landlords claim is also illegal.
Named along with her husband, Benjamin Meltzer, in a complaint to the state Supreme Court filed Tuesday by plaintiffs Amit and Jasmine Mata, Cohen contacted the 11th-floor rent of their primary residence until the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. .
In the complaint, Matas noted that they moved into temporary housing in the city during the early COVID days for the sake of their daughter’s health and the health of Jasmine, who was recovering from cancer.
This unit appears to be the one they own in Chelsea – a two-bedroom spread that Amit Mata bought in 2005 for $1.4 million, according to city finance records, and they recently tried to rent it out between May and November 2020 without success, StreetEasy records show. The complaint says that Craigslist’s ad for subletting their furnished unit, was posted around November 2020.
Business Insider first reported news of the lawsuit. Cohen declined to comment for this story.
In late 2020, Cohen and Meltzer responded to the announcement saying they needed a sanctuary from their nearby stable rental home due to impending construction scheduled for offshore which, according to the Buildings Administration’s after-hours variance records in July 2022, is still ongoing. (In the meantime, DOT records show the block on which temporary accommodation kiosks are operating for sub-tenants, including ConEd implementing a gas installation with a permit valid through September.)
Cohen and Meltzer agreed to pay $2,999 a month and all utilities, according to the complaint, all while continuing to pay their base rent.
The reason Cohen and Meltzer moved, the complaint explains: They have a hearing disorder called hyperacusis, which can make sounds that seem normal — in this case, building sounds — feel unbearably loud.
The complaint adds that some time after Cohen and Meltzer moved into the house, the building’s owner and supervisor knocked on the door. The arranged subletting of the rental apartment, according to the owner — who Insider noted separately from filing a lawsuit against Matas and Cohen in December — was illegal, and the landlord will start taking legal action as a result.
Matas says in the complaint that they “prayed” the couple to come out to spare themselves an impending lawsuit — but not only did Cohen and Meltzer refuse to do so, but also said they would pay no more than $2,558 a month, or what their attorney said was “legal rent,” she adds. complaint. Matas also said in their complaint that Cohen was aware that the landlord could sue a non-consensual sublet when she entered into the agreement.
“Then [Cohen and Meltzer] Keep living for free, stop paying any rent for [the Mattas] No rent payments were made to the landlord,” the complaint says. He adds that the “free living scheme” was made worse by Cohen’s “extensive knowledge of real estate and property relationships” due to her column in The Times.
“The defendant’s behavior is rich in cynicism and hypocrisy because the rent that the defendants refuse to pay is less than the current rental market value of the plaintiff’s residence,” the complaint says.
Communications between Cohen, Meltzer and Matas, as stated in the complaint, show that the subtenants began paying rent into the escrow account, but allegedly stopped depositing rent payments into it due to a dispute over attorney fees. However, the complaint does not specify when the alleged rent payments stopped, the amount allegedly owed — or how the minimum $35,000 in compensation is divided between rent and other costs.
“After renting this apartment on an emergency basis to escape construction-related noise injuries, Joyce and Ben discovered that excess tenants were renting to them under false pretenses. The landlord stopped accepting the rent and [the Mattas] Jeffrey McAdams, an attorney representing Cohen and Meltzer, told The Post in a statement, referring to the Chelsea properties.
McAdams added that Cohen was depositing money into his escrow account on an ongoing basis.
“On my advice, for the past two months they have suspended rental payments because we have attempted to settle with Yasmin and Amit, who admit that they are subletting their apartment without the landlord’s permission,” McAdams said in the statement. “The tenants refuse to compromise and instead continue a constant pattern of harassment and threats to harm Joyce and Ben.”
(The complaint provides additional details of the sub-tenant’s allegations that Jasmine intended to “enter the apartment with a loudspeaker,” which the complaint does not acknowledge is true. Amit Mata told Insider that he and his wife “completely deny this.”)
The complaint also accuses Cohen and Meltzer of refusing to move out even though Matas offered them an alternative solution to their needs.
However, the communication from Cohen and Meltzer’s attorneys mentioned in the complaint says:[Jasmine] She thinks Joyce and Ben want to take it home from them; They do not. They should be within walking distance of their home [nearby] But they are willing to relocate if Amit finds a place that is quiet enough for their needs and larger than a studio.”
Records point to other issues in the history of this apartment – an apparently bitter relationship between the Matas family and the landlord – in the form of past abuses that the Matas family seem to have reported and handed over to the owner by the city’s Department of Housing and Development Preservation. Among them, one documented the spread of cockroach throughout the apartment. Another hinge peeling paint off the door frame. These problems have since been resolved.
This week’s Supreme Court filings also include an exposition, whose first section, titled “room agreement”, says the lease provides two years of “full and unrestricted access” to the property between January 15, 2021 through January 14, 2023 – unless Cohen had to give notice for a period of time. 30 days for Mata to forfeit these rights.
“if [Cohen] Delivers such notice it is understood that [Matta] You might seek to find someone else to share the property with or perhaps sublet it,” she says. “To support this, [Matta] You may want to show the unit to other people and [Cohen] agrees to facilitate such visits provided at least 24 hours notice.”
Meanwhile, Section IX of that agreement says Cohen and Matta have agreed to reverse alterations to the home, including the installation of Plexiglas sound barriers, in an apparent reference to the couple’s sensitivity to noise. The complaint added that, as of July 5, Cohen and Meltzer have not gone away.
The Matas family intends to offer its subtenants a two-year sublet — and in a statement, the family said there were “many other interactions” they did not document in the complaint.
“I can’t understand why they stayed at our place when they were ready to leave on July 5,” Jasmine told The Post in a statement. “So our place no longer provides cover necessary for their safety and health – it is just a money issue. We just want to make sure they pay the rent due so we can hand it over to the landlord.”
“We are aware of the lawsuit and are looking into it,” a spokesperson for the New York Times, in response to a letter seeking comment, told The Post. The building’s owner, Vision Enterprises Management based in Great Neck, declined to comment. Jennifer Rosen, an attorney representing Matas in the building’s lawsuit, did not respond to a request for comment.