Donate

74-Year-Old Couch Surfing After Eviction From Rent-Stabilized Apartment


Carrie Dennis / Gothamist

Longtime West Village resident Pearl Grossberg was finally evicted from her West 12th Street apartment in January and has been essentially homeless since. In 2006, the 74-year-old was caught retiling her bathroom without permission, a violation of the lease on her rent stabilized apartment. At the time, Pearl was offered a 10-day "Notice to Cure," but she did not rectify the situation to her landlord's liking, and after six years of appeals, Pearl lost her home of 44 years. "Ultimately, eight judges ruled against me," she says. "The crime doesn't fit the punishment. It's all about money and greed. Landlords are all in bed with politicians—Christine Quinn is full of shit." The apartment has since been divided into a two bedroom for $3,800; Pearl was paying less than $1,000. She now finds herself shuffling between the homes of friends and trying to figure out what happens next.

Born and raised in East Flatbush, Pearl has spent the majority of her life in and around NYC. The only other home she has ever known was California, where, at 18 years old, she spent a few brief years after a wedding engagement unraveled. She soon returned to NYC, where the self-proclaimed Beatnik became a mainstay in the New York jazz scene. Pearl had a handful of long and short term affairs with various musicians, including Les McCan, whose act she would catch at Blue Note Jazz Club on West 3rd St. McCann and Pearl maintain their friendship to this day, and Pearl swears by her decision to never marry, "I'm not very traditional," she tells us, "Nothing about me is traditional." She's a septuagenarian femme fatale— her gentlemanly attention hasn't faltered since her days of frequenting Village Vanguard and Bradley's on University Place. Although she doesn't see much of those places now because of financial reasons (and because Bradley's closed in 1996.)

After battling breast cancer in 1997, Pearl became dedicated to fitness and health. "I beat breast cancer and I did it in style," she says. After a full week of medical treatment, Pearl would still find the muscle to get on her spin bike every Saturday morning. She dreams of channeling that energy into personal fitness training; she's certified and intends to instruct older women at SilverSneakers.

Her former landlord did not respond to requests for comment. But Grossberg's predicament is hardly unusual—property owners in NYC are always eager to divide up rent stabilized apartments into market-rate units, as our old pal Jimmy "Rent Is Too Damn High" McMillan will tell you. And other landlords will go to great lengths to get rid of those burdensome longtime tenants, even going so far as to accuse them of incest.

Rent stabilization in its current form emerged with the Rent Stabilization Law of 1969, when rents were rising sharply in many post-war buildings. Originally meant to protect the working class, stabilized apartments have a set maximum rate for annual rent increases and tenants have the right to renew their leases. Stabilization laws generally apply to units of six or greater built before 1974, in municipalities that have declared a housing emergency. There are about 1 million rent stabilized apartments in NYC, as opposed to the 40,000 rent controlled apartments, which differ from stabilized in that the price a landlord can charge a tenant for rent is based on the maximum base rent (MBR).

The MBR ensures building maintenance and improvements costs are covered, and is recalculated every two years. Rent for rent controlled apartments cannot exceed this number. But regulations for stabilized apartments are subject to change based on decisions made yearly by the Rent Guidelines Board, which has more here on these complicated rules.

Featured in News