Varieties of Suffering: Suing the Dakota

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Feb. 2 2011 4:14 PM

Varieties of Suffering: Suing the Dakota

The best thing about today's news of a


co-op board—OK, no, the


thing is the existence of the lawsuit at all, because one rich African-American person got mad enough at his co-op board to point out that the entire basic framework of New York residential real estate is an insane, unaccountable structure that is about as comprehensive a violation of the Fair Housing Act as could possibly be designed. If you want to buy an apartment, you have to apply as if you're applying to college, with references, and appear in person for an interview, after which the building's board—having appraised your age, gender, race, disability status, etc., can deem you undesirable and refuse to sell to you without ever specifying the reason.

But the second-best thing is that the plaintiff, financier Alphonse Fletcher Jr., was moved to sue, according to the New York Times, after the Dakota board seemingly capriciously blocked his attempt to buy an adjacent apartment and expand his home into it "to accommodate his growing family":

Mr. Fletcher currently lives in an eight-room, 2,600-square-foot apartment with three bedrooms, three and a half baths, two maids rooms and Central Park views, according to an old sales listing kept by Michele Kleier of the brokerage firm Gumley Haft Kleier.

The Fletcher family, the Times wrote, consists of Fletcher, his spouse, and a two-year-old daughter. That's 867 square feet, 2.67 rooms, and 1.17 bathrooms for each person in the household.

But privation is relative; each co-op board tyrannizes people according to its means. Fletcher wanted more space, and the board wouldn't let him have it. It also allegedly wouldn't let Roberta Flack—"the building's only other black shareholder"—install a new bathtub. And the lawsuit reportedly claims that a Hispanic applicant was rejected after the board speculated he "was interested in a first-floor apartment so that he could more easily buy drugs off the street"; the Times concluded that "the timing and circumstances suggest" that the would-be buyer was Antonio Banderas. It will be very sad for New York if this suit is settled or otherwise resolved without going to trial.


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