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Professional Complainer Says Ex Kicked Him Out of Pad for Ruining Feng Shui

By James Fanelli | December 6, 2012 7:01am

UPPER WEST SIDE — He's got a lot to complain about — namely getting the boot for bringing bad vibes.

An octogenarian who once held the Guinness World Record as the most successful complainer claims his British girlfriend kicked him out of her Upper West Side apartment because she said he ruined the pad's feng shui.

Ralph Charell, 82, is now suing his ex, F. Avril Brenig, accusing her of sending him scrambling to find another place to live a month after she persuaded him to move in.

Charell, author of the books "How I Turn Ordinary Complaints into Thousands of Dollars" and "How to Get the Upper Hand," gave up his rent-stabilized apartment on the Upper East Side to shack up with Brenig in September, according to his lawsuit filed Wednesday.

Brenig, 73, told Charell that she would add him to her will and the two would split their living expenses, the lawsuit says. She also allegedly promised him that if their love went south, he could remain in her three-bedroom apartment for the rest of his Golden Years.

But by mid-October, Brenig had a change of heart and told him that "his personal property was disturbing the 'feng shui' and 'chi' of the apartment and that she no longer wanted to cohabitate with him," the lawsuit says.

Charell claims Brenig brought in her lawyer, Julian Lowenfeld, to mediate a "mutually acceptable separation."

But the negotiations soured, and Brenig had police escort Charell out of the apartment with just a suitcase on Oct. 22, records show. A police report says that Brenig had asked Charell to leave for a week, but that he only went voluntarily when cops arrived at her apartment.

"It's unbelievable," Charell told DNAinfo.com New York. "If this thing goes to trial, sit in the courtroom and you'll have a great story."

Lowenfeld, who is also named in the lawsuit, said Charell's allegations are a work of fiction.

"Mr. Charell's claims are baseless," said Lowenfeld, adding that he never served as Charell's lawyer or mediator at the time of their breakup. "They lack any foundation whatsoever.

"I acted all times only for his former girlfriend, Ms. Brenig, who was absolutely within her rights in asking him to vacate her apartment once their relationship had broken down irreparably," Lowenfeld added.

Brenig, who is from London, said she and Charell agreed to try living together, but that she never told him to give up his own apartment.

"The moment he moved in, I realized it was impossible. Life was impossible with him," she said.

Charell arrived with 98 boxes of belongings and turned her pristine pad into a pigsty, she claimed.

"It was all filthy," said Brenig, who holds a doctorate in public health from Columbia University. "I made a terrible mistake."

Charell declined to discuss details of his complaint, but the lawsuit says he and Brenig met online in March and the friendship "ripened into an intimate, romantic relationship."

When he moved into Brenig's place, Charell said he had to give up more than $25,000 worth of furniture, books, paintings and collectibles. He also claims the rent on his Upper East Side apartment was 40-percent less than the market value and that letting it go cost him at least $150,000.

Getting dumped also broke Charell's heart — literally. The lawsuit said he never had problems with his ticker, but after his eviction he had to go to the emergency room, where he was diagnosed with palpitations, hypertension and tachycardia.

Charell made a name for himself in the 1970s and 1980s for a series of best-selling how-to books that explained to consumers the art of complaining to businesses about bad service. To get publicity for his books, he got Guinness to acknowledge him as the world-record holder for making the most successful complaints.

In a 1979 Washington Post article, Charell estimated he received $90,000 in settlements by successfully complaining to businesses.

The lawsuit says Charell now lives in an "inferior apartment" in Astoria, Queens. He's suing Brenig and Lowenfeld for at least $150,000 in compensation.

Lowenfeld claimed Charell is recycling the tactics from his books.

"I think he's trying out his techniques on my client," the lawyer said.

Charell likened his situation to a gripping film, noting that in the second act the protagonist falls on hard times but is redeemed in the end.

"After the third act, you'll have a happy Hollywood ending," he said. "And that's what I'm expecting."