Sell, Sell

We have to hurry! The building owes over a million in back taxes

 LOCATION Harlem
PRICE $79,000 in 2003 [$585.37 maintenance]
SQUARE FEET 1,300 [three-bedroom in 52-unit, early-20th-century, low-to-moderate-income co-op, limited equity]
OCCUPANTS David P. France [lawyer, producer, dancer]; Laurenz Rothweiler [human resources manager, American Express]

You have 32 cans of paint in the bathroom. Laurenz, you just came back from Switzerland, where you are from. [Laurenz] I just went skiing with my parents. [David] We met at Eighth and 23rd three and a half years ago. 9-11 speeded things up.

This is a big place. Out the window, there's a lot of action. The liquor store is the epicenter of the neighborhood. On our corner, I don't think it gets any worse. [We look at a photo of David's parents.] My father's a business consultant. Our parents are very similar. [Laurenz] My father and your father . . . [David] . . . would get along really well.

Laurenz Rothweiler and David P. France
photo: Tamara Rosenblum
Laurenz Rothweiler and David P. France

How did you know you wanted to live in Harlem? [Laurenz] We were mostly living in my 275-square-foot studio on the Upper East Side. I rollerbladed a lot in the park. I ventured onto Lenox. I'd been looking around. I thought, Why pay a half-million dollars for an apartment and then end up also having to pay maintenance that is more than stabilized rent? Maintenance is a lot of money often. Now that I'm on the board, I know where it goes—mostly. [David] The boiler. [Laurenz] Oil, then the super, the security company, the taxes that we've not always paid.

David said the building owes over a million in taxes. The city took it over from a landlord and, 18 years ago, offered it back to the tenants for a very low price. It's a self-managing, limited-equity co-op. You only get back a percentage if you sell. David said you know everything about the building. Others know lots more. I'm clearly regarded as the newcomer, one who is shaking things up. For some, the change is disturbing. Most important is to sell the vacant units. Now we have five. [David] Some . . . [Laurenz] . . . touch a wall, the plaster just falls down. [David] I think the building was at a point of crisis. That's why it was easy for him to come in. [Laurenz] The fact that I as a middle-income person—I'm not low—was able to get in, a white person, working for a big corporation at the other end of the island. That I'm gay, openly. I never hid that fact. [David] It snuck up on them. [Laurenz] After five months on the board, I decided to be very adamant about selling those empty units. Otherwise, you lose money every day. We had a lot of open houses. We sold five. [David] People were really surprised, but I wasn't. [Laurenz] I tell them at the very beginning on the phone about the back taxes, but I do believe we will resolve that. It's more effective for someone like me who has bought into the building to make that claim, and not a broker who is distanced.

Who bought? [David] A white couple—the man's an actor, with two kids. He reminds me of the kind of guy who would go to CBGB. Everybody who's moved in really wanted to do it. There was a young Asian woman. [Laurenz] Two librarians, also white. An African American woman. [David] The board doesn't want to sell any more. [Laurenz] One of the complaints about me is that I'm bringing in all these white people—that's not true. [David] We must pay our taxes. [Laurenz] When I said we should really get maintenance payments on the first of the month, the manager said, Some pay early, some late, some in the middle. It's great because that way you always have money. I said, Have you ever heard about spreading out money? We got a new managing agency.

Will you be here a long time? We're stuck. We have to wait until it works. It's not about flipping. It's going to take another two and a half years. [David] We've made tremendous progress in three years. [We go in the hall.] [Laurenz] See these stucco walls? There were spikes that would scratch you when you walked. They were worse in the apartment. We sanded them down. What can I say? I'm Swiss. I'm a perfectionist.

 
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