El Dorado fights a notorious, chain-smoking heiress in court once again


Diane Wells, the transgender heiress of a three-bedroom apartment in the famed El Dorado building on Central Park West is being sued, once again, by the co-op board for unpaid maintenance and other fees, including the cost of bedbug exterminators. The amount is estimated to total $850,000.

The saga of Wells and her apartment has been the focus of much media attention (including this fantastic New York Times profile in 2010). Born Jonathan Cheney before a sex-change operation in the 1970’s, Wells grew up in the apartment (9B) with her mother, Joyce Cheney, and brother, James Cheney.

In 2005, she was arrested under a misdemeanor assault charge for breaking her mother’s arm and was sentenced to 60 days at Riker’s Island, though that trial was eventually overturned. After her mother died of cancer in 2007, Wells was again arrested for the solicitation of murder for plotting to kill her brother who refused her entry into the apartment. That charge was again dropped a year later as the prosecutors said they could not prove the case.

Wells inherited the apartment as a joint tenant with rights of survivorship (meaning the apartment was not part of her estate), but she and Cheney are in the midst of another ongoing lawsuit in Surrogacy Court over its ownership, as Cheney claims Wells only inherited it from their mother through coercion.

Wells was evicted from the apartment in November 2013 after the co-op board brought a lawsuit against her for failing to pay her maintenance fees from July 2012 forward and for permitting “offensive odors” to escape from her apartment — chiefly cigarette smoke. Wells failed to show up in court, meaning the co-op board won by default. According to the lawsuit, “On multiple occasions the cigarette smoke and odor has filled the entry halls on at least the ninth and tenth floors of the Building, requiring shareholders to traverse a cloud of smoke between the elevator and their apartments’ entrances.” Wells did nothing to fix the smoke and did not allow the co-op board to enter the apartment to fix it. “There’s no way in hell they’re going to give me the boot,” Wells told the Daily News after the decision.

In the same lawsuit, the co-op board was awarded $230,000 to cover the costs of unpaid maintenance and fees. Wells and Cheney intended to sell the apartment to cover those fees and even listed it; the listing notes that the apartment is in “estate condition but the bones are great.”

Though the siblings managed to find a buyer, it turns out that Cheney owed “millions of dollars of estate taxes,” resulting in millions of dollars of federal and state tax liens filed against the apartment. Thus, they cannot sell it with those liens pending.

A listing photo of the apartment

At this point, the El Dorado apartment has been sitting empty since 2013 and Wells has not made any payments on it, hence this most current lawsuit. The board is asking for payments covering the maintenance and electricity over the period from 2013 to the present, as well as the costs involved in cleaning the apartment, including hiring exterminators for the bedbug infestation they found. “More specifically, the Apartment was in shambles when the Sheriff’s office and the moving company arrived,” the lawsuit reads. Though the total amount owed will be determined at trial, the lawsuit estimates it is $750,000 plus $100,000 for legal fees.

The El Dorado declined to comment for this story; Wells could not be reached for comment.

  • Richard

    Every building has at least one crazy/problematic tenant/homeowner/shareholder.