You can buy your own New York City island

Own a piece of (the) rock. . . Rat Island.

Updated on 9/21 at end:

Off City Island in the Bronx, a New York City island called “Rat” can be yours at auction on Oct. 2.

The New York Daily News reported in 2009 that one Red Brennan, a 40-year marine contractor who salvaged barges and stored equipment there, was trying to unload the thing for $300,000.  Well, he failed in that effort.

The barren 2.5-acre Rat Island is to be sold at 1 p.m. by the Alex Lyon & Son auction firm (scroll down the linked brochure).  Although you can find contact information there, I couldn’t reach anyone on Sunday.

But I did speak to Brennan, himself, who charmed me with memories of the island and filled in a few details when he returned my voicemail message.

Without disclosing the amount in his head, Brennan told me that the winning bid was subject to his approval.  (An “administration fee” of 10 percent is added to the purchase price.)

Bidders can participate online or in person so long as they have made a $10,000 deposit.  As for a minimum, neither the owner nor the auction site had information about that requirement.

The sales event is to be held at another of Brennan’s City Island properties, which also goes on the block on the Oct. 2.  That is 270-278 City Island Ave., a 7,900-sf mixed-used building at Hawkins St.

From his retirement home in Jupiter, Fla., Brennan, 73, told me that he bought the island by foreclosing on a tax lien that he had purchased in 1972.  He admits to having no regrets.

“I’ve made a lot of money with it,” he conceded, referring to the salvage operations he was able to conduct there.

The property has been on the market for $250,000, Brennan noted.  He said the city had assessed it at $265,000 and that annual taxes were approximately $1,000.

Rat Island supposedly had held a hospital for yellow-fever patients who were quarantined in the 1880s, some crumbled remains of which apparently endure along with mussel shells and bird guano.

Later, Brennan related, the island was the inhospitable home to a house or two, notably a cinder-block residence used by a writer or artist.  Today, there has been some interest in building a “green” house on the island, he added. “Everybody’s got a little twitch,” Brennan observed.

According to the Daily News in its 2009 story, that piece of rock in Long Island Sound may have gotten its moniker from the prisoners (dubbed “rats”) who rested there during their escape from Hart’s Island on their swim to City Island.  Hart’s Island is where the city now buries its unclaimed dead.

As for four-legged rats, the Gothamist blog maintained back in 2009 that they haven’t inhabited the island in more than half a century.

No wonder: Rat Island is swamped at high tide during storms, a pretty good explanation for its abandonment by land-loving creatures with almost any number of legs.  Yet it is zoned residential.

What could be a more desirable place to put down roots?

“You’d build up on stilts,” Brennan declared, without a trace of irony.  “There’s a lot of novelty to it.”

Update 9/21:

Now that I’ve found additional information from, I see that the city pegged the market value at $377,000 in December.  The assessed value is $8,064, rising to $8,547 for the next fiscal year.

The island’s dimensions are given as 300′ x 375′.

According to City-Data, Rat Island’s R3-2 zoning permits a variety of housing types, including low-rise attached houses, small multifamily apartment houses, and detached and semi-detached one- and two-family residences.

The site notes that one off-street parking space is required for each dwelling unit.  Whether off-street parking might mean a boat slip is not indicated.

Tomorrow: Out and About

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Malcolm Carter
Licensed Associate Real Estate Broker
Senior Vice President
Charles Rutenberg Realty
127 E. 56th Street
New York, NY 10022

M: 347-886-0248
F: 347-438-3201
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