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Confused Old Man Gave His Broker the West Village's Best Lease

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Back in the '70s, William Cornwell went from renting an apartment in a Horatio Street townhouse for less than $100 per month to owning the entire building for $130,000. What a deal! And now he's paying his good fortune forward by letting an up-and-coming real estate broker and that broker's father rent a pair of studio apartments in the house for far below market value. It's a happy ending! Except that it's not. According to what is now Cornwell's second lawsuit against former Citi Habitats broker Amir Meiri and his father, the 74-year-old landlord was scammed into renting the pair two apartments for just $1,167 and $400 per month. For up to 20 years. With an option to match any purchase price if Cornwell decides to sell. What the heck kind of a lease is that? A handwritten one, drafted by one of the tenants (Meiri's father), who also happens to be a real estate developer. Oopsie!

Cornwell is fighting in court to break the leases on the grounds that the younger Meiri violated state law by not representing his interests honestly, fairly and in good faith. The story is that when Cornwell wanted to rent out a $1,950-per-month studio in the house (where Kate Moss once lived!), Amir Meiri brought some tenants by but then struck a deal for himself, as well as for a second apartment, which was about to become vacant. He and his pops flashed a bunch of upfront cash, which rattled the old man:

Mr. Cornwell said in an interview he was confused by the offers, didn't know how much they translated to per month and wanted to use a standard real-estate lease, for a standard two-year term. But Mr. Meiri's father told him that he was leaving the country and needed to do a deal now, Mr. Cornwell said.The $400-per-month deal has a 10-year term and a 10-year tenant's option for renewal, which Cornwell now argues has made the house unsellable (except to the Meiris). Amir Meiri was fired by Citi Habitats, but the judge in the first lawsuit sided with him because while Cornwell "may have been dazzled by a show of cash," there was no evidence of intimidation or coercion. In fact, Cornwell even wrote a note after the lease signing thanking Meiri for his gift of a ficus tree. It was the most costly ficus tree he ever accepted.
· Foul Play Alleged In Village Leases [WSJ]