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Celebrity-luring Tribeca lofts with ‘paparazzi-proof’ garage mired in $376M complaint: ‘Literally falling apart’

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A converted 19th century bookbindery tucked on a quiet stretch of cobblestone in Manhattan’s Tribeca neighborhood, 443 Greenwich St. has attracted more than its share of bold-faced names since its first condos hit the market in 2016.

Harry Styles, Justin Timberlake, Jennifer Lawrence, Jake Gyllenhaal, Ryan Reynolds, Blake Lively and Meg Ryan have all reportedly owned lofts there. Bill Gates’ daughter, Jennifer, last year reportedly bought race car driver Lewis Hamilton’s penthouse for $51 million.

But along with the lap pool, Turkish bath, wine cellar and an underground garage widely hailed as “paparazzi-proof,” the building also has a leaky roof, walls that are “literally falling apart” and a host of other problems, the condo board representing owners claims. They’ve been suing the building’s architect, John Cetra, and its developer, Nathan Berman, for more than two years now.

In their most recent complaint, filed in New York state court in July, the owners asked for a total of $376 million, much of it in punitive damages, for 11 claims, including breach of contract and negligence. Lawyers not involved in the case say many of the claims are duplicative, and that the suit is really seeking around $100 million. That’s in line with the $250 million that owners at 432 Park Ave., a much-larger luxury condo tower also allegedly beset by leaks and other issues, are seeking in their suit.

“Defendants heavily marketed the building as meticulously renovated apartments of unparalleled luxury, while charging millions of dollars — sometimes tens of millions per unit to customers,” the 443 Greenwich board claims. Instead, “defects and code violations are present throughout the building.” According to the suit, an independent inspector found some parts of the building were “unsafe,” even “life-threatening.”

Cetra’s firm, CetraRuddy, declined to comment. A spokesperson for Berman’s firm, Metro Loft, which is known for converting commercial buildings into luxury residences, also declined to comment. The defendants have denied the allegations in court filings.

March Depositions

Though suits pitting condo owners against developers over construction defects have become common in recent years, the war at 443 Greenwich stands out for the prominence of its residents, the amount the board is seeking and how far the suit has progressed. Depositions in the case are scheduled to take place this month, and a hearing is scheduled for next week.

Disputes often arise because the sponsors want to minimize their costs before they hand over building management to unit owners, said Mark Levine, a principal at the property management firm EBMG. At 443 Greenwich, board control was transferred in 2019.

“If you’re looking at a completely sponsor-controlled board, and you have an option between a $100,000 replacement of a component versus a $10,000 repair that’s only going to last two years, you may find that they’re going to spend the least amount possible to kick the can down the road,” said Levine, who isn’t involved in the case.

He said luxury buildings’ complex architecture often made them more vulnerable to problems, while their use of specialized materials made those issues more expensive to address.

It’s not clear which celebrities currently live at 443 Greenwich, but Gyllenhaal was originally included in a list of those set for March depositions. The Donnie Darko star was omitted from a more recent schedule.

Water Damage

Much of the board’s suit focuses on the building’s eight penthouses, which were each designed with more than 5,000 square feet (465 square meters) of interior space and more than 1,000 square feet of outdoor space. Though the rest of the building dates to 1883, the top level was entirely new construction. Two penthouse owners reported leaks in 2020, but the developer failed to take action, according to the suit. A subsequent inspection allegedly revealed that the leaks were just the beginning.

“The defects were not just limited to the penthouses but could be found in nearly every aspect of the building,” the board claims.

According to the suit, shoddily laid bricks in the penthouse and parapet walls allow moisture to collect. At a 2022 hearing, a lawyer for the board, Claude Szyfer, said parapet bricks were so loose that residents could pull them out. Defective and improperly installed waterproofing also allegedly contributes to leaking.

Water is an issue as well in the building’s planted courtyard. Touted in the building’s marketing as “a secret garden, removed from the public noise of the city,” the space lacks a “properly functioning drainage system,” according to the suit.

“As a result, the courtyard floods during times of heavy rain, damaging the building,” the owners claim. The suit also describes defects in fire safety, an insufficient electric switchboard, unventilated interior bathrooms and excessive noise in many areas, among other issues.

‘Much Ado About Nothing’

Charles Pierce, a construction lawyer with Rosenberg & Estis who’s not involved in the 443 Greenwich dispute, said the damages requested by the owners far exceed what’s typical. He said he’s worked on defect cases involving similar-sized buildings where the board sought around $10 million.

“People can claim any amount they want,” Pierce said, “but it doesn’t mean they’re owed anything.”

Sales at 443 Greenwich don’t seem to have been hurt by the allegations. StreetEasy shows two units in contract, including a penthouse listed for $28 million.

Jeremy Stein, a Sotheby’s broker, said he dug into the court filings and conducted his own inspection but found no reason to advise a client against buying a $36 million penthouse there last year.

“It’s a little much ado about nothing,” said Stein.

Pamela D’Arc, a Compass broker who sold a unit in 443 Greenwich last year for $9.8 million, says buyers ask about the suit but decide they still want to live there based on its unique combination of “old-world loft” appeal, modern luxury amenities and privacy.

“It is an untouchable building,” she said.

— With assistance from Jennifer Epstein



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