A vicious battle for control of a massive New York real estate empire has descended into a family feud that turned two pairs of siblings against each in a blizzard of back-stabbing allegations and legal actions.
The sprawling, Succession-like turf battle started as a fight between two infamous landlords and brothers, Arthur and Abe Haruvi, over the future of their 500-unit Manhattan kingdom, with each accusing the other of mismanagement or subterfuge.
In the latest twist of the knife, Arthur’s daughter, Michelle, has filed a court petition claiming she was iced out of the family business and evicted from her apartment after raising concerns about the business.
And things are getting very nasty: her father’s business partner, real estate magnate Peter Hungerford, claims it’s all a ploy for daddy’s money.
“Arthur wants his daughter to just quiet down and enjoy her cushy life in San Francisco and her $3 million town home that he bought her 10 years ago,” Hungerford told The Daily Beast.
“But Michelle doesn’t want that. Michelle wants control over the business that she did nothing to build or create or manage,” he added. “And she doesn’t like being told anything other than that.”
An attorney for Michelle, Michael Gordon, told The Daily Beast his client only wanted to obtain books and records that would “allow her to understand that is happening with these companies.”
“My client simply wants the truth to come out, is worried about the financial health of her family’s portfolio, and is concerned about the intentions and experience of those who seem to be making the decisions,” he said in an email.
Arthur, Abe, and attorneys representing them did not respond to requests for comment.
The Haruvi real estate business—a 31-building, $264 million portfolio managed by seven different entities—was for decades run by the Haruvi brothers. The pair became somewhat infamous in New York City in the 1990s for allegedly attempting to evict tenants in rent-controlled apartments in order to rent them for higher prices (though they both claimed their actions were “completely lawful and proper.”) Abe eventually retreated to Florida, where he was sued by his former housekeeper, who accused him and his wife of forcing her to share living quarters with their dogs, and was divorced by his wife, who claimed he hit and scratched her during an argument. (Abe denied both claims; the maid’s lawsuit was withdrawn and the criminal charges were eventually dropped.)
But the brothers turned out to be each other’s worst enemies, spawning years’ worth of litigation over the future of their business. Arthur Haruvi sued his brother in 2020, claiming he had mismanaged their properties and locked him out of the company’s books. Abe countersued, claiming it was he who lacked access to the documents and calling Arthur’s allegations “drivel” and “an insult to the intelligence of the court.”
When Arthur won access to the documents, he turned around and sued Abe again, accusing his brother of concocting a “nefarious plan” to “usurp total unfettered control” of one of their company’s assets. Abe responded by accusing Arthur’s older daughter, Aileen, of trying to wrest control of the business from him. The matter was eventually dropped.
Even as the brothers were battling, Arthur’s daughter, Michelle, was angling for her piece of the pie. In a petition filed last week in New York County Supreme Court, first reported by The Real Deal, she alleges that she and her father discussed the possibility of cutting out Abe and dividing the real estate companies between them as early as 2019. At the time, she said, her father agreed that if a split happened, she would take an “active role” in managing the business.
Instead, Michelle alleges, her father began secretly negotiating a deal to buy out his brother with the help of another man, real estate mogul Peter Hungerford, while Michelle was away living in San Francisco.
Michelle claims she only learned of the proposed deal at the end of 2020, when her sister Aileen told her their father was considering having Hungerford buy out Abe and take control of the business. When Michelle requested information about the proposed deal, she claims, Hungerford failed to turn over key financial documents. When she inquired again in early April 2021, she claims, Hungerford directed her mother and sister to tell her to stop asking about the deal. When she called her sister for updates later that month, she claims, Aileen started “shouting obscenities” at her.
In a phone call with The Daily Beast, Hungerford did not deny refusing to turn over documents to Michelle, but said he does not believe she is entitled to them as a partial shareholder.
“Michelle only has the legal right to have anything to say about any of this because she was gifted shares through her parents’ generosity and estate planning,” he said. “So because she was handed something on a piece of paper, she’s now using that against her family, and she’s now using that to try to squeeze money out of them.”
He added: “I think that is a terrible and disgusting display of greed.”
Meanwhile, the outlook for the family firm was getting worse. By the summer of 2021, both acknowledge, the mortgages on the brothers’ properties were on the verge of default. Arthur again sued his brother, this time attempting to force him to sign on to his refinancing plan. According to the suit, Arthur had nearly secured a refinancing agreement that would keep the brothers out of default on their mortgage, and only needed Abe to sign on to extend it—something he “maliciously and steadfastly” refused to do. Abe responded by claiming he was simply working on a better deal.
Her personal entreaties going nowhere, and growing increasingly concerned about the state of the business, Michelle says she directed her lawyer to formally request information about the buyout from the family. In response, she claims, her mother threatened to cut off her inheritance if she did not withdraw the request.
“Over the next year, a similar pattern of [Michelle’s] repeated requests for information on the status of the Haruvi real estate holdings and Hungerford and [an associate’s] roles were left unanswered and ignored,” her petition states, “and these requests coincided with a time of extraordinary instability and wholly unprecedented business dealings for the Haruvi real estate portfolio.” (A response filed by the companies Tuesday called her allegations about the business dealings “vague” and “conspiratorial.”)
In May 2022, Michelle claims, her father informed her that the contentious refinancing deal had gone through—along with the buyout of his brother, facilitated by Hungerford. He declined to give her more information, so she called her uncle, who confirmed he had been bought out for $80 million, her suit states. He provided no further details.
With Abe out of the way, Michelle claims, Hungerford was now in control of the family business. In June, her petition states, she convinced her father to ask Hungerford for details of the business and its financing. But later that day, Hungerford called to tell her that her dad had changed his mind. “Hungerford was extremely aggressive and threatening, telling [Michelle] to stop playing games and that he would have to get lawyers involved if she didn’t stop,” her petition states. (Hungerford denied being aggressive or threatening.)
“He knows his daughter is wrong and she’s not playing very nicely.”
— Peter Hungerford
When she continued to press for information, she claims, her mother threatened to evict her. Sure enough, this September, the Haruvi-owned building where Michelle and her wife lived rent-free issued a notice for their eviction—signed by Hungerford.
In her petition, Michelle claims the eviction notice was “obviously part of the effort by Hungerford (and certain other members of Petitioner’s family) to pressure Petitioner to stop requesting information.” Hungerford, meanwhile, claimed her father was “fine with me evicting his daughter because he knows his daughter is wrong and she’s not playing very nicely.”
“Michelle, sorry, if you’re not gonna play nicely and you’re gonna go against your parents’ wishes, then I guess your parents’ business partner—me—is also now not on your team,” he said.
After months of being denied information, Michelle says, she filed the petition regarding her family’s companies on Nov. 17. Along with access to the requested documents, the petition also seeks a restraining order barring anyone from tampering with or destroying them, or from making any major management decisions.
“Put simply, after more than two years of asking for books and records about a substantial family real estate business in which she indisputably has an ownership interest, [Michelle] remains in the dark,” the petition states.
“Such stonewalling has only intensified [Michelle’s] concern that the Respondents’ assets are being seriously mismanaged and those individuals responsible for such mismanagement are trying to cover it up,” it adds.
The businesses responded briefly Tuesday with a filing opposing the request for a restraining order, claiming there was “absolutely no basis for the request” and noting that she “does not even allege an ownership interest” in two of the businesses about which she is seeking information. They also promised a larger response to Michelle’s petition as a whole, suggesting the familial drama was nowhere near its end.