Politics

Does Eric Adams Own This Brooklyn Apartment? It’s Complicated.

During his successful campaign for mayor last year, Eric Adams was dogged by a gnawing ethical question concerning his failure to disclose ownership of a Brooklyn apartment.

On Wednesday, Mr. Adams had an opportunity to clarify his real estate entanglements and put the issue to rest. But instead of clearing up the matter, the mayor only sowed more confusion.

At issue is a one-bedroom apartment in the Crown Heights neighborhood that the mayor has owned with his former partner, Sylvia Cowan, since 1988, according to his recent financial disclosure forms.

For years, the mayor made no mention of the property on the public disclosure forms that the state and city require of elected officials.

As he ran for mayor last year, Mr. Adams asserted that the forms were correct, claiming that he had transferred full ownership of the apartment to Ms. Cowan in 2007. He even produced a three-sentence letter to that effect, although the paper was not signed by his former partner and had not been notarized.

Mr. Adams blamed the misunderstanding on Ms. Cowan, saying then that she failed to properly record the transfer.

But in his annual filing released Wednesday by the New York City Conflicts of Interest Board, the mayor acknowledged that he still owns a half share of the property.

This time, Mr. Adams blamed his former accountant, whom he said he retained even after the accountant had become homeless and has since replaced.

The mayor has had a year to clarify the matter himself but has not done so.

“As was said during his campaign last year, Mayor Adams believed he had transferred his interest in the property to the other owner of the property in 2007,” Fabien Levy, a spokesman for the mayor, saidin a statement. “However, once he got a new accountant, the mayor realized all the proper paperwork had not been filled out in the past.”

He asserted that the “process is now underway,” adding that the mayor has not lived at, earned any income from or controlled the property in over a decade.

This latest disclosure underscores the opacity surrounding Mr. Adams’s lifestyle and personal history. He has misled the public about being a vegan. (He eats fish, too.) In February, he told state lawmakers that he had been convicted of a crime, when he had not been. In a 2019 commencement address, he appropriated a pastor’s story as his own. And during his mayoral campaign, persistent questions arose about his residency.

This year, Mr. Adams declined to release his tax returns, despite mayoral precedent, and then suggested he might not make them public. He later reversed course and said he had filed for an extension and would release them after the next filing date, in October.

Mark Davies, who served as the executive director of the city’s Conflict of Interest Board from 1994 to 2015, said that while he was unfamiliar with the facts in this case, violations of the laws that the board enforces are serious.

“Financial disclosure is critically important to a government ethics program because it alerts the public and the press to where potential conflicts of interest exist, and by publicly disclosing that, allows them to be on the lookout for actual ethics violations when they arise,” he said.

Discrepancies in Mr. Adams’s narrative about the apartment’s ownership emerged last year, when he was running in a crowded Democratic primary for mayor.

For years, Mr. Adams left the apartment off his disclosures with the state during his time as a state senator, according to The City, an online news publication. He also omitted ownership of the apartment on his disclosure forms filed with the Conflicts of Interest Board, but retroactively amended them in November 2021.

When reporters at The City and Politico last year asked about Mr. Adams’s ownership, he claimed he had transferred his shares in the co-op to Ms. Cowan in 2007 and had not lived in the property for years.

“Sylvia is the owner and has been the owner for some time,” Evan Thies, a spokesman for the Adams campaign, said at the time.

But an email obtained by The New York Times last year suggested that the transfer had still not occurred years later.

In the email, which Ms. Cowan sent to the Prospect Heights co-op board on May 28, 2021, she asked the board to approve the transfer of Mr. Adams’s shares to her and named a person who could “represent the board, Eric and me for the transaction”—- suggesting that the transfer had not yet taken place.

“As I mentioned at the Board meeting, Eric Adams (co-Shareholder) has agreed to sign over his share of apt 1-K to me,” the email read.

Mr. Adams’s spokesman said the transfer of ownership is still ongoing.

Asked for comment on Wednesday, Mr. Thies said, “There are no inconsistencies.”

On Wednesday, Ms. Cowan could not be reached for comment.

Mr. Adams’s account is confusing on many levels, including the primacy of place he gives his former accountant.

Gary J. Wachtel, a real estate lawyer in Manhattan, said that he could not comment on Mr. Adams’s statements about his accountant without knowing the details of their relationship. But he said it would be unusual for an accountant to be involved in this sort of transaction.

“In the typical situation, the accountant has no control or connection at all with the transfer of co-op shares,” said Mr. Wachtel, whose practice includes real estate litigation and transactions.

Normally, the owner would hire a lawyer to act as a go-between with the building’s management company, which would generally serve as the transfer agent for the co-op board.

A letter such as the one Mr. Adams has said he sent Ms. Cowan “certainly does not effectively transfer the interest in the shares of stock or the proprietary lease,” which gives a shareholder the right to occupy a unit in the building, Mr. Wachtel said. He added that if Mr. Adams wanted to renege, a court would not be likely to find the letter binding, both because it was not the correct method of transferring property and involved no payment.

Ms. Cowan also owns an apartment downstairs from another apartment Mr. Adams owns, in Fort Lee, N.J. Property records show that the mayor co-owns his apartment with Tracey Collins, whom he has described as his current partner.

Anne Barnard contributed reporting.

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