10 West 57th Street LLC v Metropolitan Fine Arts & Antiques, Inc.

Rosenberg & Estis, P.C. obtained a unanimous determination of the Appellate Division, First Department, declaring the leasehold interests of Metropolitan Fine Arts & Antiques, Inc. to commercial premises at 10 West 57 th Street to be void pursuant to Real Property Law Section 231 and that the landlord, Sheldon Solow, was entitled to immediate possession of the premises.

With a guilty plea from Metropolitan to violating provisions of the New York Environmental Conservation Law that prohibited the sale, purchase, trade, barter or distribution of elephant ivory without a license or permit, a Class D felony, and accompanying allocutions of Metropolitan and its principals, the Court established that Metropolitan was using the premises for an illegal trade or business. The Court also held that Metropolitan’s sale of ivory continued for four or five months after its license expired in August 2015, noting that “a commercial enterprise operating and using a particular premises as an illegal business subjects the lessees of those premises to eviction proceedings under Real Property Law Section 231 (1).”

In so ruling, the Court reversed a decision of the Supreme Court, New York County, which stated that more than a single isolated incident was required to trigger Real Property Law Section 231 (1) and void a lease. This victory serves as a powerful weapon in the landlord’s arsenal with respect to tenants who violate the law within their demised space, establishing that illegal activities committed within premises which, as here, were supposed to be used for the sale of fine arts and antiques, qualify as an illegal trade or business under the statute.