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Apartment 300 G

"No bad blood, no threats," Gribben says. His client, who he said would be mortified to see his name in the newspaper, wound up with $300,000. "The deal went down quickly and there were good feelings all around."

There aren't a lot of good feelings about facilitators like Grabow in places like the Metropolitan Council on Housing, which calls itself New York's oldest tenant union, however.

Michael Grabow is paid by New York landlords to talk tenants into leaving their rent-controlled apartments. Sometimes money (how's $300,000 sound?) talks the loudest. (Helayne Seidman For The Washington Post)

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"We look at buyouts as another destructive tool that landlords use to diminish the stock of rent-regulated apartments," says Stuart Lawrence, a council volunteer. "We prefer to advise tenants to stand up for their rights and understand the value of rent regulations for the community as a whole."

Grabow has a less sympathetic view of rent controls, not surprisingly, but he leaves those views out of his work and presents himself as an even-tempered emissary from the corporate world.

He says he doesn't have any special skills other than a strong sense of empathy and lots of patience. Many of the tenants he meets are old, and they tend to be suspicious and terrified of relocating. If a tenant dreads moving day, Grabow will send an air-conditioned car to the apartment at 9 a.m., pick up the residents and drop them off at 4 p.m. in their new home, with the boxes fully unpacked.

"If they like the second lock on their door and it doesn't transfer to the new place, we buy them a new lock," he says. "Whatever it is."

The hardest cases are people who don't care about money. Like the 80-year-old guy who'd lived in his neighborhood for decades, who couldn't imagine what he'd do with a sudden windfall.

"I kept saying, 'Tell me what I can offer.' He said, 'That's the problem, I don't think you have anything I want.' I got to know him. I said, 'Do you have any kids?' He said, 'Yeah, I have one son.' I said, 'Look, we're all mortal, we're not going to live forever. If I paid you some money, wouldn't it be nice to be able to leave that for your son?' He said, 'To be honest, my son hasn't been that good to me and we're not on good terms.'

"So I said to him, 'Any grandkids?' He said, 'Oh yeah, I've got a grandson,' and his whole demeanor changed. Eyes started to shine. I said, 'When you're gone would you like your grandson's education to be paid for? Would you like your grandson to say, my life is comfortable because my granddad left me this?' " That did it. Eighty thousand dollars changed hands.

"He moved to a very comfortable apartment, I found him something in the neighborhood. He shook my hand, blessed me, and he was a happy guy."

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