By Jared Chausow
By Katie Toth
By Elizabeth Flock
By Albert Samaha
By Anna Merlan
By Jon Campbell
By Jon Campbell
By Albert Samaha
"Once you saw the living conditions," says Guarino, "you realized that this is a person who needs help. She never got the help that she needed."
The Serial Evictee
Nina Best has been thrown out of the kind of apartment buildings that wouldn't even let you in the front door. She's been tossed from quite a few nice places, and almost never without a fight with landlords, spouses, housemates, judges, prosecutors, or even entire countries. Consider this endorsement from a former housemate: "Watching Single White Female is like watching Snow White compared to what I've been through."
Court records aren't as colorful, but they still paint a strange picture of Nina Best as a serial evictee. Best herself couldn't be reached for comment, but in the late '80s, when she was known as Nina Baum, she was evicted from an Upper East Side apartment, says attorney David Brody, who has jousted with her for about a decade. In 1991, she married, changing her name to Nina Best. She and her husband moved to Chicago so he could attend business school. The couple had a child, and after a few years, they moved back to New York, eventually settling into a co-op in the East 80s in 1996.
In 1997, they separated, but life between them continued to be tumultuous. In October 1997, on the night of the Jewish holiday Shemini Atzeret, Nina forced her way into her ex's apartment and began hitting him, according to court records. The following month, an "anonymous" child-abuse complaint was lodged against her ex-husband, and someone called 911 to report a domestic dispute in his apartment. A judge found the abuse complaint to be unfounded and the 911 call a false alarm. In 1998, a court gave Best's ex-husband sole custody over the couple's then-10-month-old daughter. In 2001, a judge affirmed that Nina's "unfitness as a custodial parent is beyond doubt."
Nina Best wound up with the Upper East Side co-op, but she sublet it and moved into an apartment on East 77th Street, signing a lease and putting down a seven-month security deposit.
In late 1999, however, Nina Best stopped paying rent. In 2000, a court evicted her from the East 77th Street apartment and ordered her to pay the landlord about $10,000.
In a typical eviction, a court authorizes movers to take the tenant's household items to a warehouse until they can be retrieved. But Best didn't want her belongings to be taken to a warehouse. She arranged for movers to come instead and take her stuff to the Upper East Side co-op that she had once shared with her husband. But there was some dispute with the movers, who ended up bringing her stuff to their warehouse. Best sued the movers, as well as her East 77th Street landlord, claiming that many valuables were stolen in the confusion. She filed a detailed list of expensive items that were allegedly pilfered—jewelry, Judaica, crystal, and fine china, Brody says.
A year after the eviction, Best skipped town. In September 2001, she went international. As prosecutors later explained, she forged her ex-husband's signature on a passport and took her daughter to Israel, where she lived in an ultra-religious Jewish community under an assumed name.
With the aid of investigators, Best's ex-husband tracked them down and managed to obtain custody of their daughter by order of an Israeli court and the Israeli police. Father and daughter returned to the U.S. But when Nina Best returned to the U.S. in May 2002, she was arrested at JFK airport. A grand jury ultimately indicted her for passport fraud.
Back in the U.S., Nina Best got to know the Wolfsons, a wealthy New York real estate family. Sources tell the Voice that Morris Wolfson, one of the heads of the Wolfson Group, gave Best a suite of rooms in the Carlton, a luxury hotel the family owned in midtown, and arranged for her to get a lawyer to fight her matrimonial dispute in court. By 2004, apparently, Best had worn out her welcome: The Wolfsons sued to evict her.
After leaving the Carlton, she and her brother, David Baum, obtained an apartment at 250 West 90th Street through a Sotheby's brokerage. But in 2004, Meyer Muschel, the landlord of the apartment, sued to evict her and her brother, for nonpayment. In May 2005, he settled with her, winning back the apartment and more than $10,000.
Meanwhile, Best's passport-fraud case had come to a head.
She had pled guilty in November 2003. She withdrew her plea, but it didn't matter: She was convicted in November 2004 of passport fraud and was sentenced in early 2005 to 18 months in a federal prison in Carswell, Texas.
While in the Texas hoosegow, she complained of "medical abuse," according to a local paper, and was able to get out early. When she returned to the city, it was in a wheelchair.
At this point, it wasn't only Nina Best's life that was complicated. She was still fighting with her ex about assets and custody. Lawyers in her case were suing her over legal fees: "It got to the point where there were a good half a dozen lawyers suing her for one reason or another," says one of those attorneys, David Brody, who adds, "Nina Best has occupied a decade of my life."