Though it seems like co-op boards exist solely to discriminate, there are limits to how they can screen potential buyers and make decisions regarding residents' requests. Take the Upper West Side's legendary Dakota, for example. When Melanie Griffith and Antonio Banderas are applying to purchase an apartment, the Dakota's board should probably not remark that the Hispanic Banderas is interested in the first-floor unit only so he can more easily buy drugs on the street. Or when soul singer Roberta Flack wants to install a new bathtub, the board might not want to make a running joke out of denying her the privilege. These are just some of the allegations in an explosive lawsuit filed by a Dakota resident, prominent black Wall Street investor Alphonse Fletcher Jr., who says he was denied the opportunity to purchase the apartment next to his own as part of the Dakota's routine mistreatment of minorities. What makes this lawsuit even more fascinating? Fletcher served as the board's president from 2007 to 2009.
The prestigious co-ops lining Central Park West have a tradition of being more liberal and accommodating than the ones on the other side of the park (Yoko might attest to that), but Fletcher's lawsuit references all sorts of naughty behavior. Griffith and Banderas were a famous Dakota rejection, but even residents who get approved?like real estate bigwigs Philip and Cheryl Milstein, who paid $20.5 million for an apartment in 2007?get dissed. According to Fletcher's suit, someone on the board remarked that the Milsteins are part of the "Jewish mafia." Sounds like the building's holiday party must be a real blast!
So what does Fletcher, who has lived in a 3BR/3.5BA (with two maids rooms) in the Dakota since 1992, want? His purchase of the 2BR apartment to be approved, and over $15 million in damages. Fletcher signed a contract to buy the apartment for $5.7 million in cash from the estate of Ruth Proskauer Smith, but the board concluded his finances were too shaky, though Fletcher says he's worth $80 million. Was the rejection race-driven? It might have been motivated by a different color: green. After the denial, a board member put her apartment on the market as a $19.5 million package deal with the unit that Fletcher wants to buy. As John Lennon would have said, "Damn that's shady!
You know who might benefit from all this controversy? Indra B. Tamang, the immigrant from Nepal who became a loyal caretaker to actress and Dakota resident Ruth Ford. Ford famously left two Dakota apartments to Tamang when she died, but it wasn't clear whether the building's board would allow Tamang to live there. The Wall Street Journal reports today (it's Dakota Day, y'all!) that Tamang has found a buyer for the larger apartment, likely in the $4.5 million range. He hasn't yet applied to live in the smaller studio where Ford's artist brother once lived, but if he does, will the Dakota board really want to be seen rejecting an immigrant's rags-to-riches story right now?
· Dakota Co-op Board Is Accused of Bias [NYT]
· Butler Did It: Sells Dakota Co-op [WSJ]
· All Dakota coverage [Curbed]