A Random Ditch Is Causing Elite Real Estate Drama

Eliot Spitzer 985 Fifth Avenue

Center: 985 Fifth Avenue, as it currently stands (Google Maps). Inset: Eliot Spitzer in 2004 (U.S. Department of State, Public domain)

There are plenty of factors and claims which can interfere with the high-end real estate market, potentially creating legal snafus — delaying construction and causing headaches for developers.


A literal concrete ditch on the toniest stretch of the Upper East Side may not seem like a particularly coveted entity, but it’s currently in the spotlight in a brewing battle between the glamorous residents of 980 Fifth Avenue and Eliot Spitzer, the former governor of New York who owns a rental tower at 985 Fifth Avenue.

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On Friday, the co-op board of 980 Fifth Avenue filed a lawsuit suggesting they are entitled to ownership of the ditch in question (technically owned by Spitzer’s condo) thanks to “adverse possession,” according to the New York Times.

More commonly known as “squatter’s rights,” adverse possession allows for property control claims to be made after certain periods of undisputed use. In New York City, this time frame is 10 years. Apparently, the co-op has been casually using the 350-square-foot hole to stash construction supplies over the years. A lawyer for the board stated, “All we’re interested in is to claim our plot of land that we have a right to own,” while Spitzer dismissed the suit as frivolous. “It’s like you let your neighbor park his car in your driveway for two weeks and they say, oh, by the way, I own your house,” he told the Times.

Naturally, there are layers to this situation (as there often are in one of the world’s most exclusive zip codes). Back in November 2022, Spitzer’s eponymous firm filed plans to raze the existing building to make way for a limestone behemoth with approximately 25 luxury condos. Considering COVID-based court delays, litigation will likely go on for quite some time — and has the possibility to interfere with Spitzer’s proposed construction, should the space be awarded to 980 Fifth Avenue. The Times also notes that Spitzer has a history of complex interactions with Stephen Treadway, the CEO of the co-op’s holding company. As attorney general, Spitzer investigated Treadway’s involvement in a mutual fund trading scandal — ultimately resulting in a fraud charge and hefty fine. One-percent problems? Absolutely.

We’ll keep you updated with any developments as they play out.


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