Photo illustrations: slowed down; Screenshots: Crain Communications, East Side Feed, Inman, New York Times, Particle Media
New York real estate has always had infamous family dynasties, scions of scions and theirs: the Trumps, Kushners, Dursts, Tishmans, and Lefraks, whose personal and business lives coalesce in the tabloids with the occasional mega divorce or murder case. And that’s just the rich with famous names – there are even more layers of the messy and rich that you may not know, but whose exploits are equally shameless. Last week one such family, the Koeppels, produced headlines like something out of Charles Dickens’s pale house: “NYC Man Sues Mom for Being a Terrible Landlord,” the New York After said.
According to Crains New York, who originally published the news, William Koeppel recently filed a lawsuit against his mother, Roberta Koeppel, alleging that she, along with his sister, is in fact a slum landlord. In court documents, William claimed that the ten buildings overseen by his mother in Manhattan, Brooklyn and Long Island have more than 1,000 violations related to faulty services such as elevators and water heaters and noted that in 2020 she was named the 47th worst landlord in the world. the city by the Public Prosecution Service. Koeppel alleges that his mother instructed the management company used in the buildings, First Service Residential, to pay violation fees rather than make the requested repairs. Roberta has denied this in statements, saying she “visits the properties periodically” and that First Service makes repairs when they need to be made, per from Crain.
William, 62, is suing that both his 84-year-old mother and sister are being removed as trustees. William’s attorney, with an opinion piece in Brooklyn Paper, framed the lawsuit as a matter of public safety, asking, “How many New Yorkers need to be injured before significant action is taken?”
But the current episode of Dome v. Dome is just the tip of a succession-like iceberg of lawsuits and family strife, complete with wedding drama, prize poodles, and boats named after prize poodles. A ten-year lawsuit has been filed against William by some of his tenants, which is still dragging on; a charge against William on charges that tenants had to donate to Rudy Giuliani’s mayoral campaign to rent an apartment from him; fights over country club memberships; officers called Palm Beach mansions. This isn’t even the first time William Koeppel has sued his mother. So who are they?
Koeppel’s real estate dynasty began at the turn of the century with Abraham Koeppel in Brooklyn. After Abraham, the family business moved to Manhattan and eventually split into two separate entities (both called Koeppel & Koeppel, confusingly), one downtown and primarily commercial, the other residential and uptown. William’s father Robert A. (who did indeed marry a woman named Roberta) was part of uptown Koeppels.
Bill started making headlines of his own in the 1990s when he was involved in a series of scandals over his relationship with former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani. Koeppel, then in his early thirties, was a major fundraiser for Giuliani’s mayoral campaigns. In a New York from 1994 Time story, some suggested that Koeppel was trying to win favor with the future mayor in exchange for help with city assessments; others said that, no, Koeppel was just real, For real to Giuliani. “He has an incredible admiration and affection for Rudy that is more intense than I’ve seen from almost anyone else,” the mayor’s campaign treasurer told the United States. Time. (“He wants to be a friend. He wants people to like him,” Bill’s cousin suggested in the same piece.) After Guiliani took office in 1994, Bill was appointed as a volunteer on the board of the “Offtrack Betting Corporation” (although he had waited for the much more visible, paid job of Commissioner for Consumer Affairs), which he resigned after it was revealed that he had provided apartments in his buildings to Giuliani campaign workers with leases that allowed them to delay paying months of rent, raising questions about illegal campaign donations. He also pleaded guilty in 1996 to soliciting donations to the Giuliani campaign from tenants and real estate agents to secure rent-stabilized apartments. An agent told the Time he was sitting with a client in the landlord’s office of one of Koeppel’s buildings when he received a call from Koeppel that the broker had to shorten a check for the Giuliani campaign. “He called me and told me to join the club,” he said.
At that point, Koeppel’s family conflict was already in full swing. His cousins, the Koeppels of the downtown Koeppel & Koeppel firm, had no problem with it during Bill’s legal troubles. Time about how Bill allegedly flew to Palm Beach every weekend during law school, then failed the bar exam three times, and then sued the exam for discrimination for being dyslexic. After Giuliani took office, Bill apparently boasted that he told the government that his cousins were committing tax evasion. He said the feud started because they kept him from joining a Long Island country club.
As reported by Intelligencer at the time, Bill first sued his mother in 1997, following his father’s death last year. In that lawsuit, Bill alleged that Roberta had “banned” him from the family’s second home in Westchester and told the court that when he was a child, she drugged him and locked him “in dog cages” (the Domes held show poodles; Bill seems to have named his fishing boat after one of them). Other family members have been called as witnesses. One cousin reportedly submitted in an affidavit that “as long as I’ve known Roberta, her whole world has revolved around acquiring more money and wealth, and usually at the expense of others. In my opinion, my cousin Roberta would throw everyone under the bus to to get her way when money is involved.” Roberta, in turn, claimed that her son had bugged her bedroom, and the antipathy was apparently so great that Koeppel had an armed guard at his Palm Beach wedding (his bride was a woman he’d met at a Giuliani fundraiser) to prevent that his mother would cause a potential disturbance, according to this magazine’s 1998 gossip pages.
But they weren’t all prize-winning poodles and armed guards. After all, the Koeppels had buildings to manage. In 2000, Bill was in the news again (in an article called “Rudy Pal Boots Kids”) when Koeppel & Koeppel attempted to evict a nursery from an Upper West Side building by raising their rent from $5,000 to $22,000 after it was demolished. had been converted from social rent to market conform. In 2011, he was sued by nine residents of 350 E. 52nd Street for illegally charging market rents while applying tax cuts for rent stabilization. Just a few months later, Koeppel became one of only 12 landlords not to renew an agreement with the 32BJ SEIU porters’ union after heated negotiations, with tenants complaining about mice, rats and maggots in the building.
More than a decade later, the lawsuit brought by the tenants at 350 East 52nd Street is still ongoing, tenant lawyers told Curbed. In February 2021, a judge awarded them a lower rent that was significantly lower than what they were charged by Koeppel, who is challenging the ruling up to the Supreme Court. At a news conference in 2011, when tenants protested sanitation after the union struggle, then-public attorney Bill de Blasio said: “These charges are just the latest episode in a long history of tenant harassment by Mr. Koeppel. It’s a pattern that goes back decades.” The Koeppels, mother and son, are due to appear in court again on June 24 over their latest lawsuit, but the date has been postponed, the reunion will have to wait.