The Theft of Apartment 1A @ 12 East 132nd Street

The Theft of Apartment 1A @ 12 East 132nd Street

Okay, so this is a tough story. A very tough story.

An agent on my team received a call about six months ago regarding Miss Carolyn Johnson. Miss Johnson was hopeful that we would assist her with the sale of her co-op in Harlem. Mr. Johnson had purchased the co-op over a decade ago but had not returned to it in about eight years. Eight years ago, Carolyn was assaulted on the property. Due to the difficult times she is facing in her recovery, both physically and emotionally, she has not been able to bring herself to return to the apartment.

I assured Miss Johnson that it wouldn't be a problem. We were happy to visit the apartment, report back to her, and help her prepare for the sale without her needing to step foot in the home. When I visited the apartment, I was surprised to find that the home, which I was informed had been uninhabited for at least eight years, appeared as though it had recently undergone a major renovation that was in its final stages. I informed Miss Johnson of this, and she was equally surprised. She had no idea who could have carried out renovations on the apartment or had access to the property without her knowledge.

I began to investigate. I contacted the building management, another broker who conducted business in the building, the superintendent, and the building's management company. Finally, after numerous calls, the board president personally contacted me to explain what had happened to Miss Johnson's home.

I was informed that the apartment had been foreclosed due to non-payment of maintenance fees, and the building itself had initiated the foreclosure process. This revelation surprised me, but I took the board president at her word. However, shortly after our conversation, while conducting further research, I discovered that no lis pendens had been filed. In fact, there were no filings for foreclosure on the property at all. Upon reviewing Miss Johnson's arrears, it appeared that she owed the co-op approximately $70,000 in back maintenance and penalties. This was perplexing as the apartment was valued at least $400,000, and in the event of a foreclosure, any profit after settling the arrears and fees should have been returned to the owner.

Miss Johnson did not receive the remaining amount that she was entitled to if a foreclosure had indeed occurred. Consequently, I contacted the board president again to seek clarification. She informed me that the property had been sold for the exact amount owed in arrears, and the foreclosure had been conducted privately by the building.

I spent considerable time researching and consulting with lawyers to validate my suspicions that there is no such thing as a private foreclosure and that the actions of the co-op were either grossly negligent or outright illegal. In my conversation with the board president, I discovered that she, in fact, now owned the apartment. Moreover, she had acquired it without making any payment; the back fees were simply waived for her. Subsequently, she renovated the apartment and planned to sell it, expecting to profit hundreds of thousands of dollars from the transaction.

Though I am not a lawyer, it is evident that the actions of this board president, and possibly others, are highly illegal.

Subsequently, I reached out to about half a dozen lawyers who specialize in these types of cases. All of them agreed that Miss Johnson had a strong case and should be entitled to the proceeds from the sale based on market value, along with damages and interest. However, all six attorneys declined to represent Miss Johnson due to the anticipated high costs associated with the lawsuit, and her inability to afford the retainer. Despite inquiring about a contingency arrangement, where the lawyer's fee is contingent upon winning the case, the lawyers expressed that the potential damages were not sufficient to justify the extensive time and effort required for such a complex case. I estimated that Miss Johnson may be owed approximately half a million dollars. Furthermore, the attorneys emphasized that this case would be protracted, involving years of litigation, and even a typical 40% fee—based on a half-million-dollar verdict—would not be adequate compensation for them.

In response, I contacted the city to secure a pro bono attorney for Miss Johnson. Unfortunately, as this matter is deemed a civil issue, the city does not provide legal assistance for individuals unable to afford legal representation. Subsequently, I reached out to five different media outlets, including The Real Deal, New York Times, and New York Post, among others. I detailed the attorneys' reluctance to take on the case initially, but I encountered resistance in their responses. They either ignored my inquiries or outright stated that the story was not significant enough since similar occurrences were commonplace in New York City, implying that proving the case would require excessive effort.

Dismayed by the lack of support, I contacted the city housing department since Miss Johnson's building falls under the jurisdiction of New York City housing regulations. For five months, I have been attempting to reach them but have not received a response. Even after visiting their office, I discovered that the location had moved, and the status of the department responsible for addressing my concerns was uncertain.

Frustrated by the lack of assistance, I composed this article. I am at a loss, unsure of what steps to take next to advocate for Miss Johnson. It is clear that an individual who has endured an assault, spent eight years in recovery, and sought to sell an investment made over a decade ago has been unjustly deprived of her property, with no entity within our supposedly organized city offering assistance.



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