A vicious battle for control of a massive New York real estate empire has turned into a family feud that pits two pairs of siblings against each other in a blizzard of backstabbing accusations and legal action. .
The vast, Succession-esque turf war began as a fight between two notorious owners and brothers, Arthur and Abe Haruvi, over the future of their 500-unit Manhattan kingdom, with each accusing the other of mismanagement or fraud.
In the latest twist of the knife, Arthur’s daughter Michelle has filed a lawsuit, claiming she was frozen out of the family business and evicted from her apartment after raising concerns about the business.
And things get going very nasty: her father’s business partner, property tycoon Peter Hungerford, claims it’s all a ploy for daddy’s money.
“Arthur wants his daughter to just shut up and enjoy her quiet life in San Francisco and her $3 million townhouse he bought her 10 years ago,” Hungerford told The Daily Beast.
“But Michelle doesn’t want it. Michelle wants control of the business she did nothing to build or create or run,” he added. “And she doesn’t like to be told anything other than that.”
Michelle, Arthur, Abe and lawyers representing them did not respond to requests for comment.
The Haruvi real estate business — a $264 million portfolio of 31 buildings managed by seven different entities — was run by the Haruvi brothers for decades. The pair became somewhat notorious in New York City in the 1990s for allegedly trying to evict tenants in rent-controlled apartments in order to rent them at higher prices (although they both claimed their actions were “completely legal and proper.” ) Abe eventually moved back 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 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 (Abe denied both claims; the maid’s lawsuit was withdrawn and the criminal charges were eventually dropped.)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 of litigation over the future of their business. Arthur Haruvi sued his brother in 2020, claiming he mismanaged their properties and shut him out of the company’s books. Abe countered, claiming that it was he who did not have access to the documents, and called Arthur’s claims “fraud” and “an insult to the intelligence of the court”.
When Arthur gained access to the documents, he turned around and sued Abe again, accusing his brother of hatching a “salty plan” to “take 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 case was eventually dropped.
Even as the brothers fought, Arthur’s daughter Michelle fished for her piece of the pie. In a lawsuit filed last week in New York County Superior Court, first reported by The Real Deal, she claims she and her father discussed the possibility of cutting Abe and the real estate companies as early as 2019 to divide between them. , she said, her father agreed that if a split occurred, she would play an “active role” in running the business.
Instead, Michelle claims, her father secretly began negotiating a deal to buy out his brother with the help of another man, real estate mogul Peter Hungerford, while Michelle was away in San Francisco.
Michelle claims she only learned of the proposed deal in late 2020, when her sister Aileen told her their father was considering Hungerford buying out Abe and taking control of the business. When Michelle requested information about the proposed deal, she claims, Hungerford failed to hand over important financial documents. When she inquired again in early April 2021, she claims, Hungerford told her mother and sister to tell her to stop asking about the deal. When she called her sister later that month for updates, she claims, Aileen started “shouting obscenities” at her.
In a phone call with The Daily Beast, Hungerford did not deny that he refused to turn over documents to Michelle, but said he did not believe she was entitled to them as a partial shareholder.
“Michelle only has the legal right to say anything about any of this because she received 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 it against her family, and she’s now using it to try to squeeze money out of them.”
He added: “I think it’s a terrible and disgusting display of greed.”
Meanwhile, the outlook for the family firm worsened. By the summer of 2021, both admit, the mortgages on the brothers’ property were on the verge of default. Arthur sued his brother again, this time trying to force him to join his refinancing plan. According to the suit, Arthur nearly obtained a refinancing deal that would keep the brothers out of default on their mortgage, and only needed Abe to sign on to extend it — something he “willfully and steadfastly” refused to do. Abe responded by claiming he was simply working on a better deal.
Her personal pleas going nowhere, and growing increasingly concerned about the state of the business, Michelle says she has instructed her lawyer to formally request information about the family buyout. 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 lawsuit states, “and these requests coincided with a time of extraordinary instability and completely unprecedented business transactions for the Haruvi property portfolio.” (A response filed Tuesday by the companies called her allegations about the business deals “vague” and “conspiratorial.”)
In May 2022, Michelle claims, her father informed her that the controversial refinancing deal had gone through—along with the buyout of his brother, facilitated by Hungerford. He refused to give her more information, so she called her uncle, who confirmed he had been bought out for $80 million, her suit says. He did not provide any further details.
With Abe out of the way, Michelle claims, Hungerford was now in control of the family business. In June, her suit says, she convinced her father to ask Hungerford for details about the venture and its financing. But later that day, Hungerford called to tell her that her father had changed his mind. “Hungerford was extremely aggressive and threatening, said [Michelle] to stop playing games and that he would have to get lawyers involved if she didn’t stop,” her lawsuit states. (Hungerford denied being aggressive or threatening.)
“He knows his daughter is wrong and she is not playing very well.“
— Peter Hungerford
When she continued to press for information, she claims, her mother threatened to evict her. Sure enough, this September the Haruvi building where Michelle and her wife lived rent-free issued an eviction notice—signed by Hungerford.
In her suit, Michelle claims that the eviction notice “was obviously part of the effort by Hungerford (and certain other members of the applicant’s family) to pressure petitioners to stop requesting information.” Meanwhile, Hungerford claimed her father is “okay with me kicking his daughter out because he knows his daughter is wrong and she doesn’t play very well.”
“Michelle, sorry, if you’re not going to play nice and you’re going to go against your parents’ wishes, then I guess your parents’ business partner—me—isn’t on your team either,” he said.
After months of being denied information, Michelle says, she filed the lawsuit against her family’s companies on November 17. Along with access to the requested documents, the suit also seeks a restraining order prohibiting anyone from tampering with or destroying them, or from making any important management decisions.
“Simply put, after more than two years of asking for books and records about a substantial family real estate business in which she undeniably has an ownership interest, [Michelle] stay in the dark,” the suit reads.
“Such stone walls have only intensified [Michelle’s] concerns 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 on Tuesday with a filing opposing the request for a restraining order, claiming that there was “absolutely no basis for the request” and noting that she “doesn’t even claim an ownership interest” in two of the businesses about which she sued. They also promised a bigger response to Michelle’s complaint as a whole, suggesting the family drama was nowhere near its end.