Landlord to Embattled Attorney Stanley Cohen: Pay Up or Get Out

photo(234)Melvin Felix Mr. Cohen in his loft.

After being accused of federal tax violations in what he believes is a response to his representation of controversial clients that include alleged terrorists, Stanley Cohen is facing another court battle this week: he’s being told to pay real estate taxes or leave his longtime base of operations on Avenue D.

On July 30, the outspoken attorney’s landlord, Hasa Realty, issued a five-day notice demanding that Mr. Cohen pay $45,780 by Aug. 8 or give up his home office at 119 Avenue D. In papers filed Aug. 14 in Civil Court, the landlord claims that the $4,500-per-month loft is being rented for commercial purposes, and is subject to real estate tax totaling $37,637 in 2011 and 2012.

But Mr. Cohen claims in a response filed Aug. 29 that the loft from which he works is also used for residential purposes, and his landlord has long known and agreed to this  – meaning Hasa has no grounds for a commercial summary proceeding. He adds that conditions such as the absence of a fire escape “render the premises unfit for the use intended,” and demands an abatement for the months during which he paid rent despite the unsafe conditions.

The five-story building, which faces the Jacob Riis Houses, has three active violations, per Department of Buildings records. The oldest, issued in 2009, cites a “failure to maintain for egress fire stairs at the rear of building.”

According to Mr. Cohen’s response, his apartment is protected by rent-stabilization and loft laws, and his landlord has been charging more than is legally allowed under the statutes. The building is listed in the city’s register of properties containing rent-stabilized units, though it’s unclear whether Mr. Cohen’s unit is protected.

The building, between Eighth and Ninth Streets, originally featured large loft spaces above the first-floor retail space. In 2003, the owners received permission to create six apartments in floors two to four. The conversions were completed in 2007.

During an interview with The Local conducted before the charges came to light, Mr. Cohen said the building’s owners approached him about the conversions and the two sides agreed that he would take over the fifth floor for a home office, maintaining the loft layout. The lawyer, who said his primary residence was upstate, jokingly described his neighbors in the new apartments as “young folks I scream at” when they host parties that spill over onto his roof. He added that he had embraced his role as the “grouchy guy who lives on top.”

Reached for comment about the court case, Mr. Cohen said it was “no biggie,” and that it amounted to an “obscure pissing contest” that did not warrant media attention.

The spirited attorney is no stranger to media attention. In June he was indicted on charges that he failed to file individual and corporate income tax returns from 2005 to 2010, among other allegations. He has repeatedly described the case as a “witch hunt” brought in response to his work defending controversial clients. During one week last month, Mr. Cohen spoke to Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and took on commentator Mona Eltahawy as a client after she was arrested for defacing a pro-Israel subway ad. More recently he traveled to South Africa, where he is representing a Muslim community radio station in what he described as a landmark free-speech case.

Hasa Realty declined to comment on the housing case; the company’s lawyer did not return The Local’s calls. The parties are expected to appear in court Thursday.