Law and Order

Gallery Files $10M Wrongful Eviction Suit at Savanna, Manhattes Development Site

540 West 26th Street.

540 West 26th Street.

Lehmann Maupin Gallery is suing the landlord of 540 West 26th Street for illegal eviction, and is seeking compensatory damages in excess of $10 million, plus a sum for punitive damages, according to court documents.

That is a site where Savanna, The Manhattes Group and the Silvermintz family are looking to tear down a two-story building, which is home to the gallery, and an adjacent lot and erect a large commercial and office project with community facility space, as New York Observer previously reported. 

The Supreme Court suit, dated Tuesday, says that 293 Tenth Ave. Corp., run by Michael Silvermintz, sent a notice of termination to the tenant in October 2013 that stated that the owner “intends to demolish the entire building.” The letter gave an April 30, 2014 vacate date.

But in order to demolish the building, the lease says that it needs to be accompanied by a valid Department of Buildings demolition permit, which the landlord didn’t have, the suit claims. Since then, the landlord has “engaged in a systematic pattern of conduct that unreasonably interferes with and obstructs plaintiff’s use and occupancy of the subject premises.”

The DOB’s spokesman told Commercial Observer that an application for a demolition permit was filed last month at 540 West 26th Street, but no permit has been issued. The spokesman noted that the site would not be issued a demolition permit if a tenant was occupying the space. Lehmann Maupin Gallery is still on site. Two other art gallery tenants, Tony Shafrazi Gallery and Stephen Haller Gallery, have already moved out.

The lawsuit charges the landlord with causing “grave and irreparable harm” by installing a 112-foot-tall sidewalk shed in front of the gallery without providing required notice/consultation and posting an asbestos notification sign adjacent to the gallery when the landlord “has no right to perform asbestos abatement…prior to the expiration date of the lease on Oct. 14, 2016.”

Lehmann Maupin signed a lease for a portion of the ground floor at the 26th Street building between 10th and 11th Avenues on Oct. 31, 2001. The gallery’s space is 9,839 square feet, according to CoStar Group. The gallery was founded in 1996 by partners Rachel Lehmann, who last month was featured in The Wall Street Journal, and David Maupin. Its focus is on emerging and established artists and the gallery represents artists from all over the world at its three locations—two in New York and one in Hong Kong.

Earlier this year, Savanna, The Manhattes Group and the Silvermintz family announced a joint venture to develop the property.

“540 West 26th Street, once completed, will be a 160,000-square-foot, nine-story, ground-up development project that will be home to galleries, community facility space and commercial office space,” according to The Manhattes Group’s website. “Designed by Morris Adjmi Architects, the project will cost approximately $140 million and will take approximately 24 months to complete.”

Lehmann Maupin’s attorney, Charles E. Boulbol, said that at the upcoming Sept. 10 court date he plans to “ask the judge to compel them to remove the sidewalk bridge.”

Real estate attorney Adam Leitman Bailey, who is not involved with the case, said that the majority of the gallery’s claims are “barred by the lease and [are] meritless.” He did note, however, that “the lawsuit could cause [the] landlord to show its cards and see if it is demolishing [the] premises as sometimes [the] landlord will want to evict a tenant and not demolish [the property]. Also time is money and this case can delay the eviction costing the landlord money and/or financing.”

Jay Solomon from Klein & Solomon, who represents the landlord, didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment and Mr. Silvermintz wasn’t immediately reachable. The co-founders of The Manhattes Group weren’t immediately available for comment and Savanna declined to comment.

Follow Lauren Elkies Schram on Twitter or via RSS. lschram@observer.com