Philadelphia Skyline

When a Historic Townhouse Goes Back to Its Roots

November 30, 2017

We helped an owner of an historic town house recover a building through a package of generous buyouts and tenant relocation assistance, which were mutually-beneficial-to-tenants[1]. The Tenant Association was represented by one of the absolute best tenant-buyout lawyers in the City. The Tenant Association was strong and filled with an eclectic group of insightful people who needed to carefully weigh their decisions about accepting buyouts. In the end, both sides came together, we got it done, and everyone moved on to better next chapters. 

This story is the story of the physical building’s better next chapter. The building was once a grand, single-family home. By the time our story here starts, the building was chopped up into tiny SRO apartments and oddly shaped and tiny regular apartments. When my client purchased the building a few years ago, it was shockingly run down. These big old houses were simply never intended to become apartment buildings. But, many were hastily carved up about 60 years ago, when their owners had given up on an economically ailing New York.

On the day of vacatur, I accepted the last set of keys and stayed behind awhile. There I was, standing in the silent, empty building. The sun was streaming through from the skylight at the roof, down to where I was seated on the steps. The air was dusty and warm. I walked around a little, to make sure the house was empty, although I knew it was. And, to just peek at the detritus left behind by people’s lives. Bottles of Windex sitting on sinks that no one would ever clean again. Books that no one would ever read. Pieces of things - exercise equipment and computer monitors - just the crap that we all collect and don’t want to take with us when we move.

As I opened apartment doors and didn’t shut them, as I roamed freely around, I could feel the house breathing again. I could not only feel the ghosts of all the people from the past who had lived their lives there, but I could see the ghosts of the future as well. I could see a big family eating Thanksgiving dinner at a long table.

Small apartments are needed, for sure. Micro units. Co-living. Affordable. It’s all good. But SRO’s never belonged in that land-marked building, which was a single-family home and an almost ancient piece of New York City’s architectural history. New York City needs to hold on to some of its past as it moves towards its future.

Respectfully submitted,

Michelle Itkowitz

[1] Details changed to protect people’s privacy.

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