A Brooklyn house divided -- by a wall

New York couple are going through a divorce, and neither wants to leave

February 11, 2007|By Erika Hayasaki | Erika Hayasaki,Los Angeles Times

NEW YORK -- Chana Taub peered through a gap in the recently built plasterboard wall that sliced her three-story house in two. Straining to look at what used to be her living room, she worried that her husband was lurking on the other side.

"I can't be near him," she whispered, just in case he was eavesdropping. "If I see him, I run the other way."

Chana and Simon Taub are in the middle of a bitter divorce. Out of stubbornness - and to irritate each other - each refused to move out of the house they shared for 18 years. A judge ordered construction of the wall, which runs down the middle of the house, to prevent the couple from sparring under the same roof.

The wall went up in December as neighbors gathered outside to watch. The sand-colored barrier on the first floor separates the living room from a spiral staircase leading to the second and third floors. The second floor is divided in half by a locked glass and mahogany door that has been barricaded with plywood.

Chana Taub, 57, got the garage, front door, spiral staircase, three bathrooms, second-floor kitchen, four bedrooms and a nursery on the third floor.

That left Simon Taub, 58, with a side entrance into the first-floor living room and bathroom, along with a second-floor dining room, which he could get to only by walking up his neighbor's stairs outside, climbing over a railing on his balcony and entering through a window.

He paid construction workers to build a spiral staircase on his side, allowing him to get from his living room to his dining room.

Simon Taub says he intends to stay until she moves out.

"I want a peaceful life, and that's it," he said. "I don't want nothing to do with that woman."

The couple also own property down the block, which Simon Taub uses.

"He sleeps in the other apartment," Chana Taub said, sitting inside her kitchen, with its pink floral wallpaper and granite counters. On weekends he goes to his half of the house, she said, "and makes a lot of noise."

The case has been dubbed by local media as Brooklyn's "War of the Roses," after the 1989 movie about a divorcing couple who waged a fight to their deaths over their house and possessions.

"It's bizarre," said Stanley D. Heisler, a divorce lawyer in New York for 24 years. It isn't unheard of for couples going through a divorce to refuse to move out, Heisler said, especially with the high cost of housing. Some, he said, suffer for years together in a one-bedroom apartment.

But, Heisler said, "this wall business - I've never heard of that."

Chana Taub said she sued for divorce because her husband physically and mentally abused her, charges Simon Taub denied. Chana Taub had him forced out of the house after she filed a police report that he beat her. Simon Taub requested to move back and sought permission to build a wall. A judge agreed with the idea. "I told the judge I want to have a wall to protect me," he said. He spent $500 to build it.

Chana Taub appealed the judge's decision and lost.

The Taubs met two decades ago, introduced by a mutual friend at a used-car dealership. The marriage was the second for both.

He said they were happy at first. But, Chana Taub said, when she wanted a job, her husband would not hear of it. She stayed at home raising the couple's four children and on weekends would prepare elaborate Sabbath meals for her husband and his guests.

Chana Taub says her husband lost interest in her when she got older. "He needs a younger, prettier wife," she said. He used to wake her in the middle of the night, she claims, telling her to put his socks on him and make coffee so he could visit his mistresses.

"I was very loyal to him," she said. "He would shout and curse and throw food on the floor."

Simon Taub flails his arms, flustered by his wife's allegations. "She's lying all the way!" He denies having mistresses and recalls their past differently.

"The only time I told her to put on my socks was when I got a stroke and I was paralyzed on one side," Simon Taub said. "Who should put on my socks and shoes? Should I call a maid?"

Erika Hayasaki writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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