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The Butler And The Board

I’m a sucker for rages to riches tales.  The other night’ on the news, I heard about Indra Tamang, the butler who was left an estate valued in excess of $10 million, including two apartments at the venerable Dakota, ( 1 West 72nd Street) where he’d cooked and cleaned for 35 years for his former employers turned benefactors, Charles and Ruth Ford.  I had to know the rest of the story.

It turns out that Apartment # 54 has been on the market since December of last year.  Originally listed for $7.5 million, it’s gradually come down in price, and with the latest reduction of $499,000 on April 30th, is now selling for the relative bargain of $4.5 million.

But things are looking up as a result of all that free TV publicity.

“I got lots of calla after that,” reported Alexander Peters, the broker on this listing.  “I have three people coming today to see the place.”

“What about the other apartment?” I wanted to know.

“Mr. Tamang hasn’t decided yet what to do with that one.  It’s still crammed full of stuff from Charles Ford, who was a prolific author and artist – a really amazing character.  So was his sister, Ruth.”

Apartment number two isn’t nearly as grand as apartment number one.

“It’s a studio with a sleeping alcove on the top floor,” Mr. Peters told me, that was originally built as servants quarters.  I don’t know what Mr. Tamang is going to do with it.”

So far nothing’s been transferred.  Will the board approve transfer of the apartment to the former butler – that’s the $64,000 question.

“I don’t see why not,” said Mr. Peters. “After the estate is wrapped up, Mr. Tamang will have as much money as lots of the other owners that call the Dakota home.”

What lots of people don’t realize is just because you inherit an apartment like Mr. Tamang did, doesn’t mean you can actually live in it.  Most proprietary leases (and condo bylaws) have a spousal exception that allows the deceased owner to transfer, and the surviving spouse to acquire, the apartment’s shares and lease without board approval.

But if the person to whom the apartment is bequeathed is not an immediate family member, odds are he’ll have to pass financial muster just like any other would-be buyer. And if he doesn’t, he may inherit and own the shares, but the board can prevent him from moving in.

So even if he has the cash, will the Dakotaons welcome a former butler into their club?

“He’s a Buddhist with a wife and three kids – the nicest, sweetest man,” Mr. Peters gave Mr. Tamang his own unqualified endorsement.

Then there’s the law, which is also on Mr. Tamang’s side. The City’s Human Rights Law (Admin. Code 8-107(5)(n))prohibits discrimination in housing based on lawful occupation, which means a board can reject a buyer who makes his living from prostitution or gambling, but not for being a butler, though, in truth, the law was originally passed to protect lawyers (yes, lawyers) who were persona non grata because no sooner did they move into buildings than they started finding things to sue over.

But just because that’s the law doesn’t mean it’s always followed. Boards can hide behind claims that buyers have inadequate finances. In fact, just recently another broker told me he believes his buyer was rejected because he was a super not a banker.

It’s too soon to tell how this fairy tale will end.  I’m routing for Mr. Tamang.

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