Millionaire's Cheap Rent for a Park Ave Penthouse

A new lawsuit filed by an unhappy Park Avenue resident with a seemingly charmed life has us wondering: how many millionaires have fantastic rental deals? Or, more to the point, how many of us have a grandfather who will leave us with a deluxe duplex?

It's hard to say since people in New York City with cheap rents, millionaires or not, tend to have the good sense to not divulge what they are not shelling out each month. But at least one sweet deal has gone public, leaving tongues wagging and real-estate obsessed New Yorkers wondering about other much cheaper-than-expected arrangements.

Last week the New York Post put the word out, loud and clear, about hedge fund bigwig Ross Haberman, who is fighting to protect his $380-a-month deal on a duplex at 737 Park Avenue. Haberman argues that the board at the building has no legal right to change the arrangement, which apparently came about because his grandfather, a real estage biggie, owned the building.

And what a building it is. I've been in 737 Park Avenue and it is everything a Park Avenue palace should be. Stunning, with the kind of doormen who take you up in the elevator themselves. 740 Park Avenue, an address so impressive that Michael Gross wrote a book about it. calls this spot between East 71st and 72nd the "prime Upper East Side." At 737, the setting seems quiet and classy and exactly the kind of place where the residents probably do not want to read about their building in the New York Post. (Or online at AOL, for that matter. Sorry, 737.)

That may be why several people in the real estate business passed on the chance to chat publicly about the Haberman case. But a high-profile realtor from the commercial end of the business, Faith Hope Consuelo of Prudential Douglas Elliman, bravely held forth on the matter, which she says is an unusual one. She doesn't think there is an epidemic of millionaires paying such low rent. As the chairman of the retail leasing and sales division, she says she rarely sees anything like that on the commercial side.

The $380-a-month rate is more typical of a space in a garage than a space for a human in New York, Consuelo says. "I've seen $700 a month as a rock-bottom price in Inwood. Anything lower than that has to be rent-controlled, and thus is passed on by inheritance," she says. That's exactly what happened with Haberman. Conseulo says there are "lots of legends about Fifth Avenue penthouses for $1,000 a month or some such figure, but very few people will admit to it."

Unusual or not, the Park Avenue case may be fodder for the city's never-ending battle over rent control. Back in 2003, housing economist Henry O. Pollawski argued in a report for the right-leaning Manhattan Institute that "the vast majority of the benefits of rent stabilization" go to higher income spots in the city, like lower- and mid-Manhattan. Those are fighting words in New York, where rent control still retains significant political power. But the best insurance may still be being born into the right family.

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