Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Leona Helmsley: 'The Queen of Mean'

The Resident Uprisings, West Coast

Soon into her married life, Leona set about taking on her newest position as senior vice president of Harry's chain of Helmsley Hotels. As a result of the marriage she had acquired 10% of the stock in the subsidiaries. The marriage had literally saved her from losing the lifestyle she previously enjoyed before meeting Harry, because she was on the verge of losing her real estate license and possibly her position months before her wedding day.

Apparently, toward the end of 1971, she had attempted to force tenants in one of the residential properties she managed to buy condos. They claimed that Leona threatened them that others would buy their homes if they did not act quickly and buy the property themselves. If they refused, she would verbally abuse them until they gave in. A handful of tenants had had enough and sued Leona.

Eventually, Leona was found guilty and ordered to pay compensation to all the tenants of the building, as well as grant a three-year lease to the residents. Moreover, her license had been temporarily suspended pending further notice. However, with her new role as Harry's wife and all the benefits that came with it, it didn't matter as much that she would not be able to practice real estate. Instead, she decided to focus all of her attention on the hotel chain.

During the 1970's, Harry would face similar troubles as Leona had with many of the tenants of his properties. One of the biggest problems he faced was trying to convert apartments to condos at several of his residential complexes. Another problem he ran into was trying to erect buildings on land he had purchased, which happened to be smack dab in the middle of residential parkland. Throughout the decade Harry would be immersed in battles with tenants, which would severely damage his reputation as a landlord for many years.

In 1971, Harry had allegedly paid approximately $40 million for several thousand apartment units in San Francisco , California. His intention when buying the property was to convert a large majority of the units into condos. Harry believed that the change over to condos would benefit the owners in the long run because it would eventually increase the overall value of the property, which the tenants would later be able to profit from. He also stood to make a substantial profit if the conversions were successful. However, what he failed to mention was that those who did not buy their apartments had a considerable amount to lose.

Many of the tenants had difficulty accepting the fact that they had to think seriously about buying their apartments. There were many who simply lacked the interest or the funds. The reality was that if a tenant passed by the option to purchase their apartment, someone else who had interest in the property and the financial backing could actually buy their home from under them. In such a case, the tenant would have to forfeit their apartment and literally be forced to seek out a new dwelling. The residents were not pleased with the situation they faced and they began to get angry due to the growing pressure to purchase their homes.

In response, a large group of tenants began to protest against Harry's conversion plan. According to Moss' book, Parkmercer residents decided to band together and form an organization to put a stop to what they believed was unfair "deprivation of property without due cause." Even though they believed they could be fighting a losing battle, they were determined to contest the matter to the City Council.

In 1975, the group of Parkmercer tenants organized a petition to restrict conversions in an attempt to win back their homes. They hoped that the city would recognize that their rights to fair housing were being threatened by big business, namely Harry. Within months, their hopes became a reality. The City Council decided in favor of Parkmercer tenants, which prompted strict state regulations that would protect tenant leasing by limiting the number of yearly conversions.


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