Neil Bender, Greenwich Village’s largest private landlord, caretaker of and disputed heir to the William Gottlieb real estate empire-which includes more than 100 individual properties in what has become one of the most valuable residential neighborhoods in New York City-is a reclusive, 54-year-old Springsteen fan with a thick shock of silver hair that he’s wont to run his fingers through, a limp handshake, a stocky build, an affection for old cars, and a stable of critics that includes his tenants, his late Uncle Billy’s old friends, his sister and nephew and his former osteopath.
“If Billy heard and found out all the things that were going on right now, he’d find it very deplorable,” said Michael Corbett, Mr. Bender’s nephew and Gottlieb’s grandnephew, who is now in an extended legal fight with his uncle to reclaim what he considers partly his inheritance.
Mr. Corbett, a 40-year-old personal trainer who lives in midtown, and his mother, Cheryl Dier, of Maryland, have two aims before the Appellate Division: first, to overturn a surrogate judge’s decision to grant Mr. Bender stewardship of the Gottlieb real estate trust, which expires in 2014; and second, to question the 2005 will of Mollie Bender, Gottlieb’s sister and heiress, who died in 2007, leaving all 100-plus buildings to her husband, Irving, and son Neil (and pointedly cutting out her daughter, Ms. Dier, and grandsons, one of whom is Mr. Corbett). A decision from the court on the first matter is expected any day now. Untangling the various family claims is a headache. But at stake is one of New York City’s largest real estate empires.
We’ve read this story before, of yet another New York real estate fiefdom tearing asunder yet another New York family, albeit with different boldface names: the Astors, the Helmsleys, the Goldmans. In this case, the estate’s worth has been estimated to range between a mere few hundred million dollars to more than $1 billion. And, as Andrew Gerringer, a Prudential Douglas Elliman managing director in Greenwich Village, put it, “Even as New York goes, this is really bizarre.”