The Small, Extremely Litigious New York Real-Estate Dynasty You’ve Never Heard Of

Photo-Illustration: Curbed; Screenshots: Crain Communications, East Side Feed, Inman, New York Times, Particle Media

New York real estate has always had notorious family dynasties, those scions of scions and their scions: the Trumps, Kushners, Dursts, Tishmans, and Lefraks, whose personal and business lives bleed together in the tabloids with the occasional megadivorce or murder trial. And those are just the empires with famous names — there are yet more tiers of the messy and rich whom you might not know but whose exploits are equally shameless. Last week, one such family, the Koeppels, produced headlines like something out of Charles Dickens’s Bleak House: “NYC man sues mom for being a terrible landlord,” the New York Post said.

According to Crain’s New York, which originally published the news, William Koeppel recently filed a lawsuit against his mother, Roberta Koeppel, alleging that she, along with his sister, is effectively a slumlord. In court documents, William claimed the ten buildings under his mother’s supervision in Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Long Island have more than 1,000 violations regarding defective services like elevators and boilers and noted that she was, in 2020, named the 47th-worst landlord in the city by the public advocate’s office. Koeppel claims his mother has instructed the management company used in the buildings, First Service Residential, to pay violations fees in lieu of making requested repairs. Roberta has denied this in depositions, saying she “visits the properties periodically” and that First Service does repairs when they need to be made, per Crain’s.

William, 62, is suing to have both his 84-year-old mother and his sister removed as trustees. William’s lawyer, with an op-ed in the Brooklyn Paper, framed the lawsuit as a matter of public safety, asking, “How many more New Yorkers must get hurt before significant action is taken?”

But the current installment of Koeppel v. Koeppel is merely the tip of a Succession-esque iceberg of litigation and family infighting, complete with wedding drama, prize poodles, and boats named for prize poodles. There’s a decade-spanning lawsuit against William filed by some of his tenants still dragging on; an indictment against William on charges that tenants had to donate to the Rudy Giuliani mayoral campaign in order to rent an apartment from him; battles over country-club memberships; cops called to Palm Beach mansions. This isn’t even the first time William Koeppel has sued his mother. So who are they?

The Koeppel real-estate dynasty began with Abraham Koeppel in Brooklyn at the turn of the century. After Abraham, the family business moved to Manhattan and eventually split into two separate entities (both called Koeppel & Koeppel, confusingly): one located downtown and primarily commercial, the other residential and uptown. William’s father, Robert A. (who, yes, married a woman named Roberta), was part of the uptown Koeppels.

Bill started making his own headlines in the ’90s, when he was involved in a series of scandals regarding his relationship with former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani. Koeppel, who was then in his early 30s, was a big fundraiser for Giuliani’s mayoral campaigns. In a 1994 New York Times story, some suggested Koeppel was trying to curry favor with the future mayor in return for help with city assessments; others said that, no, Koeppel was just really, really into Giuliani. “He has an incredible admiration and affection for Rudy that is more intense than I’ve seen coming from almost anybody else,” the mayor’s campaign treasurer told the Times. (“He wants to be a friend. He wants people to like him,” Bill’s cousin suggested in the same piece.) After Giuliani took office in 1994, Bill was appointed to a volunteer position on the board of the “Offtrack Betting Corporation” (though he had been holding out for the much more visible, paid job of consumer-affairs commissioner), which he gave up after it came out that he had provided apartments in his buildings to Giuliani campaign aides on leases that allowed them to put off paying rent for months, raising questions about illegal campaign donations. He also, in 1996, pleaded guilty to soliciting donations to the Giuliani campaign from tenants and brokers in order to secure rent-stabilized apartments. (“A legislative order wiped this from William’s record years ago,” according to his rep.) One agent told the Times he was sitting with a client in the office of the landlord of one of Koeppel’s buildings when he got a call from Koeppel saying the broker had to cut a check to the Giuliani campaign. “He got on the phone with me and told me we had to become a member of the club,” he said. (In a statement, William Koeppel says, “30-year-old headlines do not negate the fact that Roberta Koeppel and the estate’s trustees have severely neglected this portfolio of properties posing a great threat to building tenants and the general public.”)*

At this point, Koeppel’s family conflict was already in full swing. His cousins, the Koeppels of the downtown Koeppel & Koeppel firm, had no problem, during Bill’s legal troubles, telling the Times about how, during law school, Bill reportedly flew to Palm Beach every weekend, then failed the bar exam three times, then sued the exam for discrimination because he is dyslexic. After Giuliani took office, Bill apparently boasted that he had told the administration that his cousins were committing tax evasion. He said the feud began because they had kept him from obtaining membership at a Long Island country club.

As was reported by Intelligencer at the time, Bill first sued his mother in 1997, following his father’s death the previous year. In that suit, Bill alleged that Roberta had “exiled” him from the family’s second home in Westchester and told the court that when he was a child, she sedated him with medication and locked him “inside of dog cages” (the Koeppels kept show poodles; Bill appears to have named his fishing boat after one of them). Other family members were called as witnesses. A cousin reportedly submitted in an affidavit that “as long as I have known Roberta, her entire world revolved around acquiring more money and wealth, and most often at the expense of others. In my opinion, my cousin Roberta would throw anyone under the bus to get her way when money is at issue.” Roberta claimed, in turn, that her son had bugged her bedroom. The antipathy was apparently so great that Koeppel had an armed guard at his Palm Beach wedding (his bride was a woman he had met at a Giuliani fundraiser) to prevent his mother from causing a potential disturbance, according to the 1998 gossip pages of this magazine.

But it wasn’t all prizewinning poodles and armed guards. The Koeppels did, after all, have buildings to manage. In 2000, Bill was in the news again (in an article called “Rudy Pal Boots Kids”) when the Koeppel-owned K.S.L.M.-Columbus Apartments* tried to evict a day-care center from an Upper West Side building by raising its rent from $5,000 to $22,000 after it converted from subsidized housing to market-rate. In 2011, he was sued by nine residents of 350 East 52nd Street for illegally charging market rents while taking rent-stabilization tax abatements. It was only a few months later that Koeppel became one of just 12 landlords to fail to renew an agreement with the 32BJ SEIU doormen and porters union after heated negotiations during which tenants complained about mice, rats, and maggots in the building.

More than a decade later, the lawsuit filed by the tenants at 350 East 52nd Street is ongoing, lawyers for the tenants told Curbed. In February 2021, a judge granted them a reduced rent substantially lower than what they were being charged by Koeppel, who is fighting the ruling. At a press conference in 2011, when tenants were protesting sanitation conditions after the union fight, then–Public Advocate Bill de Blasio put it this way: “These charges are just the latest episode in a long history of tenant harassment by Mr. Koeppel. It is a pattern that dates back decades.” The Koeppels, mother and son, were set to be back in court regarding their latest lawsuit on June 24, but the date has been postponed. The reunion will have to wait.

This piece has been updated.

Introducing the Koeppels