CO-OPING WITH EVICTION

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“Magnif 13 story, marble lobby, 24hr drmn…” reads the ad in the classifieds. But longtime tenants of this Harlem high-rise say they’re getting shoved out en masse now that the neighborhood is suddenly swank. And the painful process of gentrification apparently got a helping hand from an unlikely quarter: the state Attorney General’s office, which is charged with regulating co-op apartments.

Residents of 790 Riverside Drive at 157th Street estimate that approximately 30 families got formal or informal eviction notices over the last month or so. Many of these families have been renting their co-op apartments for years with hopes of eventually buying them. Now, their homes are selling for up to a quarter of a million dollars, far beyond their means.

“It became a seller’s market because of the boom,” said Derrick Still, summarily ousted by his landlady after 10 years. “I don’t know if they all worked together, but all of a sudden it just hit like a thief in the night.”

The hot Harlem housing market is clearly to blame. But some of these tenants can also point a finger at the Attorney General’s office. Upon investigating the building a few years ago, the AG found that one family, the Grunbergs, violated co-op guidelines by owning most of the shares in the building. The office demanded the Grunbergs sell off most of their apartments.

Most of the apartments in the building are now being bought by wealthy young couples and other paragons of prosperity, say tenants. “You have a mix of tenants who are fairly poor, and and you have people who are millionaires pushing people out,” said tenant Marvin Borenstein, who is in his 70s. “This is an example of what can happen to people in this market. People don’t know where to go.”

The Borensteins and others have contacted the State Attorney General’s office about what they call a “seeming lack of due process”–in other words, not giving renters first crack at buying their apartments, offering them instead to outsiders.

But there’s probably nothing illegal about the move, said Michael McKee of New York State Tenants & Neighbors, a tenant advocacy group.

“It probably is legal! That’s the nature of the law, and that’s why so many people are homeless in this city,” fumed Marian Borenstein, Marvin’s wife. “But what’s legal is not necessarily moral.”