Hilary Swank | Michael Jackson | CBGB

Hilary's Un-Swank Apartment Battle

Hilary Swank is finding out that even being a two-time Oscar winner means absolutely nothing when dealing with New York's dreaded apartment-rental laws.

Swank and actor husband Chad Lowe sublet a luxury duplex in New York's Chelsea neighborhood for $8,000 a month. But as with any rental apartment in New York, they are now in court. I guess no one told them this sort of thing is not only inevitable, it's mandatory.

The Lowes, according to court papers, felt they were being overcharged by their landlord, Haim Joseph, and got a $12,000 abatement from him and a promised reduction in rent.

At the same time, Joseph claimed the couple owed him $36,400 in arrears. In a very un-Hollywood-like non-payment case, the Lowes were ordered to pay up $21,700 after the abatement was settled.

Now, of course, the Lowes don't want to pay the $21,700, and are appealing the decision.

In their original papers, the Lowes cited the famed "warranty of habitability" of New York housing law, meaning they had a lot of needed repairs and violations that made the place difficult to live in.

You may think that this amount of money is piddling to a successful acting couple, but in New York housing court, it's always the same story: the principle of the matter.

At the center of the Lowes' case is a letter in which Chad wrote that he and Hilary were intending to look for a new apartment. That was three years ago.

Now New York rental and buyers' inertia has hit them as well. My advice, kids: Move to your own place as fast as you can.

Youth Pastor an Alleged Jacko Victim

I told you on Friday that today would begin the most gruesome week for Michael Jackson in his child molestation case.

Starting today, the prosecution will call nine witnesses, all of whom will testify to seeing Jackson in inappropriate situations with young boys.

Jackson's former maid, Adrian McManus, told me that this is the main theme of the onslaught: "Jackson must be stopped."

One of the witnesses will be a young man whose mother was also a Neverland maid.

Now a married and a youth pastor in Santa Maria, he is expected to say Jackson molested him. His testimony, and that of his mother, will be the subject of much contention in court.

The family took a $2 million payoff from Jackson in 1994. The boy's mother recanted her original statement later.

We don't know the order in which the witnesses will take the stand. It's possible that June Chandler, mother of the boy who received $23 million in 1993 from Jackson, will come before the pastor.

Chandler is expected to testify to many things, possibly including a limo ride in which she witnessed Jackson caressing and kissing a young boy who sat in his lap.

Chandler, who got $1.5 million from her son's settlement, will have to withstand a withering cross-examination by defense attorneys. But I'm told she's ready.

The remainder of the witnesses will be former Jackson employees, some of whom sued for wrongful termination, and lost, in 1995. Those ex-staffers wound up declaring bankruptcy and even paying Jackson's legal fees.

But they didn't disappear. Many of them live in the Santa Maria area. Their tales of emotional, financial and legal suffering at the hands of a celebrity may strike a chord with the jury.

This week in the Jackson trial should also be a boon for reporter Diane Dimond.

A decade ago, she was at the forefront of rounding up witnesses who had stories about Jackson's peculiar and mysterious life at Neverland.

Others of us in the press may be getting scoops now, but it was Diane who paved the way back in 1993 and 1994. She may actually be mouthing the words as some testify in this mini-trial. No one knows these witnesses better.

CBGB: Famed Punk-Rock Club Has $25 Million Enemy

Tomorrow comes the big hearing about famed New York punk-rock nightspot CBGB and its dispute with its landlord, Bowery Residents Committee, a tax-free foundation for the homeless.

Maybe someone should ask Seedco, one of the BRC's two top private contributors, what it thinks of the BRC trying to evict CBGB.

In February, Seedco ran a big conference in lower Manhattan to help downtown arts organizations and small businesses — exactly what CBGB is.

Seedco's top executive even lives in a hard-to-get apartment in Washington Square Village, a desirable downtown address not far from the joint where the Ramones, Talking Heads and Patti Smith got their starts.

"I can't imagine all the people who plunked down $1 million for condos in the East Village went there not to have places like CBGB," Smith told me recently. "Isn't that the whole point?"

You might think the Bowery Residents Committee, which runs a shelter and psychiatric unit for homeless people above the nightclub, is a poor little charity doing its best to save the homeless.

I started thinking that too when I kept reading stories about its leader, a guy named Muzzy Rosenblatt, and his quotes that "even CBGB must pay its rent."

But Muzzy — cute name, good marketing — is actually named Lawrence. And the populist-sounding Bowery Residents Committee is a thriving foundation that took in $23 million in donations last year, according to its federal tax filing.

Of that total, roughly $16 million, the foundation claims, came from the government. The rest of the money comes from an impressive list of huge corporate sponsors, including Citigroup, American Express, JPMorgan Chase and several large private groups, such as the Altman, Starr and Booth Ferris foundations.

Ironically, the foundation even received a donation from Warner Brothers, whose Sire record label has benefited mightily over the years from acts discovered at CBGB, such as the Ramones.

The board of directors boasts an attorney from Greenberg Traurig, the Atlanta law firm that's made millions in rock and roll, as well as Credit Suisse and CORO. Former Wall Street Journal and current New York Times reporter Julie Salamon is listed as board chair.

Suddenly, CBGB looks like the underdog and the homeless advocates like big business.

One would certainly think that, considering the BRC's tax filing. Rosenblatt himself is listed as making a neat $145,000, plus another $12,000 in benefit-plan contributions, per year — a nice chunk of change for doing God's work.

BRC's other expenses are fairly interesting as well: $200,000 for travel; $431,000 for the telephone bill; $11 million in salaries and almost $2 million more for "other employee benefits."

The back rent owed by CBGB weighs in at $96,000.

Seedco is listed on the BRC Web site as one of its two top contributors, donating $150,000 and over (Citigroup is the other).

Seedco stands for Structured Employment Economic Development Corporation. Its stated goal is to "promote asset building for residents and businesses in economically distressed communities."

Just as the BRC is busy getting ready to wallpaper over CBGB's 30-year history, Seedco states in its PR copy: "Community-based organizations have the cultural competency and understanding of local needs that are essential in creating meaningful community-building initiatives."

So here's an irony: Seedco, which pulled in $20 million in revenue last year, just ran a conference in February at the National Museum of the American Indian in Lower Manhattan. The subject: "Money, Management and Marketing: Building Entrepreneurial Practice in Downtown's Creative Community."

A spokeswoman for Seedco said they had no idea that CBGB was in danger of closing.

Many of the speakers at the conference were from downtown arts organizations like the Bowery Poetry Club and the Knitting Factory.

Among the others who've put money into the BRC is American Express, the corporate-underwriting giant sponsoring this month's Tribeca Film Festival.

That puts Seedco and Amex both in the position of trying to bolster downtown arts while at the same time erasing a famed institution in just that business.