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Rebranding neighborhoods may land real estate brokers in legal trouble

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Just say no to fake neighborhood names

West 125th Street is the northern end of what brokers are trying to call “SoHa.”
Federico Rostagno/

What’s in a neighborhood name? A lot, at least when it comes to New York real estate. The practice of brokers giving existing neighborhoods new, ridiculous monikers is not quite as old as time, but it’s close, and New Yorkers are pushing back on it more than ever.

The latest: State Senator Brian Benjamin is expected to introduce legislation that would keep real estate brokers from rebranding neighborhoods with absurd nicknames, according to Politico. He was spurred by the overwhelming backlash to “SoHa,” which some brokers have been using to describe the part of Harlem between 110th and 125th streets. (It’s a portmanteau of “South Harlem,” apparently, and no, it’s not a thing.)

The name has been around for a while: The New York Times refers to “SoHa” in a piece about Harlem’s sudden hotness from 1999, and a building called SoHa 118 began selling condos nearly a decade ago. But it’s only recently that the backlash began forming in earnest.

Longtime Harlem residents have been fighting SoHa for months now, and see it as an attempt to erase the history of the neighborhood. “We’re not going to let people who just got here change the name of our community for their profit,” Cordell Cleare, who’s currently running for City Council, told DNAInfo in May. “This is about greed and lust.”

Under Benjamin’s proposed bill, the city government would be able to block the use of these new neighborhood monikers—though how, exactly, is unclear—and penalize brokers who use them, according to Politico New York.

The SoHa kerfuffle is merely the latest in a long line of attempts to rebrand various New York neighborhoods with names that either erase their histories, or—if we’re being cynical—will get attention for how ridiculous they are. See: the Piano District, which failed to catch on in the South Bronx; LoDel, which appeared on Apple Maps as part of the Lower East Side (“below Delancey,” get it?); and ones that have, to some degree, caught on, including Heights Park (Prospect Lefferts Gardens) and NoMad (at one point, it was just that weird area between Midtown and Gramercy).

Correction: an earlier version of this piece stated that “PLG” was a broker attempt to rebrand Prospect Lefferts Gardens, which a reader points out is not correct. We regret the error.