Joyce Cohen, a newspaper columnist, had a few options when she started looking for an apartment, and … Business Insider reports that Cohen, the longtime real-estate writer behind the New York Times’ popular “The Hunt,” and her partner, Benjamin Meltzer, seemed to have found one of the happy endings in which her column specializes, settling into a mid-priced Upper West Side sublet. Now they’re being sued by the couple from whom they sublet that apartment — even though, at least judging by Insider’s reporting, the Cohen-Meltzers are just trying to ride out the remainder of the sublet term.
In the fall of 2020, Cohen and Meltzer, who both have hyperacusis, a condition of hypersensitivity to noise, sought out a sublet while construction work was being completed outside their own Upper West Side apartment. They found a listing on Craigslist that November for an apartment being rented out for $2,999 a month by Amit and Jasmine Matta (a.k.a. Jasmine Caprizzo), who had relocated to a condo they owned. The Meltzer-Cohens signed a two-year sublease that runs until mid-January 2023. (Full disclosure: I used to work with Cohen at the Times.)
In the lawsuit, filed in New York State court, the Mattas claim that the landlord found out about the sublet and moved to evict everyone. Tenants in New York State have the right to sublet their apartments, provided they inform the landlord in writing and give information about the subletter. Landlords can only deny subletters on reasonable grounds. But it appears that the landlord did not authorize the sublet, brought a case against both the Mattas and the subletters, and the Mattas tried to stop the legal action against them by asking Cohen and Meltzer to leave.
They didn’t go — the couple, according to the suit, had already installed plexiglass sound barriers and modified the doorbell to make the space sufficiently quiet for their needs. Instead, they started paying rent into an escrow account — as tenants are advised to do during rental disputes. According to the suit, the couple’s lawyer also told the Mattas that instead of paying $2,999 as the sublet terms specify, the couple would agree to the legal rent of $2,558 a month. The Mattas weren’t happy about that and accused the couple of having “a scheme to live for free,” according to Business Insider. But Cohen’s lawyer Jeffrey McAdams told the New York Post that “after renting this apartment on an emergency basis to escape construction-related noise injuries, Joyce and Ben discovered that the overtenants sublet to them under false pretenses. The landlord stopped accepting rent and the tenants now live in their condominium.”
He added that Cohen and Meltzer are still depositing money into that escrow account. “On my advice, for the last two months they have put rent payments on hold as we attempted to settle with Jasmine and Amit, who admit they sublet their apartment without the landlord’s permission. The tenants refuse to settle and instead are continuing an ongoing pattern of harassing and threatening to injure Joyce and Ben.” (Jasmine Matta allegedly threatened to “come through the apartment with a bullhorn,” which the Mattas denied when they spoke to BI.) Cohen declined to comment, and the Mattas could not be reached this afternoon.