HABITAT

LEGAL/FINANCIAL

For board members and property managers of co-ops and condos in New York City, there are legal and financial questions regarding new and old laws, accounting rules, auditing, and so much more. Here’s what you need to know to manage your finances and speak knowledgeably with your accountant and attorney.

When Must Enclosures Be Removed?

Written by Frank Lovece on September 25, 2015

New York City

 

If, after all the considerations of legal, aesthetic, and other issues, a board decides that an enclosed balcony has to come down and not go back up — what then?

"The owner will scream and moan and say, 'How dare you?' and offer 17 reasons not to do it," Kenneth Jacobs, a partner in the law firm Smith, Buss & Jacobs warns. Among the arguments, he says: "It was there when I bought it. There's no alteration agreement, so how do you know the co-op/condo didn't install this? You're the one who has to make the structural repair" — which is true — "so, therefore, you've assumed all the responsibility for repairing and replacing anything I built" — which is not true except for something "like an earthquake, because that would be a casualty, and casualty losses differ from repair and maintenance."

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Here's a story that may potentially stoke the ire of some New Yorkers boil. It looks like U.S. taxpayers will be footing a $1.5 million bill for a luxury condo in Chelsea. Wait for it… Made of wood. According to DNAinfo, if the Department of Buildings approves the construction plans, a 10-story building made mostly of wood could rise at 475 West 18th Street. The development "won a $1.5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Softwood Lumber Board for research into how to work with engineered wood for construction, according to a department announcement," DNAinfo reported. You know New York has changed when developers are building things made out of wood on purpose. Designed by the SHoP, who also worked on the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, the 120-foot wooden structure will be located across the street from the High Line. It will have commercial space on the ground floor (hope it's not a restaurant) and will have 15 two-, three- and four-bedroom apartments.

Photo of wooden high rise by SHoP

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George McGrath, board president of the posh co-op called Forest Hills South Owners, says his board has maintained a "trust but verify" policy for many years. That legacy includes a simple but effective list of processes when dealing with building finances and management companies.

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When it comes to dealing with hot-button issues in cooperatives and condominiums, many boards have realized that transparency and communication are essential. Today, we examine one very simple way a board can maintain harmony and make building residents feel that their voices matter: conduct a survey. 

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It's a new season, and that means brokers are taking a look at what direction the real estate market will take this autumn. A panel of experts offered DNAinfo five predictions of what potential buyers can expect in the next few months. "Many are doubtful that out-of-control bidding wars — which became commonplace this spring — will return, at least in Manhattan," reports DNAinfo. "But limited inventory will still be a thorn for many buyers, especially at the lower price points of the market, which nowadays many brokers consider to be under about $2 million." One of the five predictions is that the summer's dip in the stock market, which was the "first wave of real volatility since the 2008 credit crisis," may give buyers a little bit more leverage for the first time in years.

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Enclosures, Floor Area Ratio, and Other Legal Issues

Written by Frank Lovece on September 23, 2015

New York City

 

The enclosures could jeopardize your floor area ratio. If an enclosure is a certified room it brings up a subtle issue boards must consider: does an enclosed balcony change your building's floor area ratio (FAR) (a measure of your building's maximum allowable use)?

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How a Clever Co-op Escaped its Land Lease

Written by Jennifer V. Hughes on September 23, 2015

New York City

 

Do you have a land lease? That's when a condo or co-op corporation owns a building but another entity owns the land underneath. The entity typically rents it for long terms, such as 90 years.

As the lease ages, it can become a problem for people buying apartments in the building. For instance, if a potential buyer wants to take out a 30-year loan, but there are only 35 years left on the land lease, it can make banks skittish — which means they often stop lending to shareholders trying to buy into those buildings.

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How times change. Seasoned New Yorkers who remember the Red Hook of old will likely recall it was crowned in 1990 by Life magazine as one of the ten worst neighborhoods in the United States. But it has gone from being the crack capital of the world to the latest gentrified neighborhood boasting luxury condo development. Of course, you've got to give the mega rich an incentive to buy. And what better way to entice them than by offering convenient access to the shiny posh condos, even if it means changing the direction to sections of Verona and Commerce streets. According to DNAinfo, the city presented the proposal late last week as a means to "ease traffic congestion and make it easier for future residents of upscale condos to get to their homes." Must be nice, eh? Having the direction of traffic on a couple of streets changed for your convenience? According to the article, "the Department of Transportation is seeking to convert Commerce Street between Imlay and Van Brunt streets into a one-way eastbound street. The one-block stretch is currently a two-way street. The proposal would also change the direction of an underused section Verona Street between Imlay and Van Brunt streets. Traffic on the block currently flows eastbound from Imlay to Van Brunt streets, but the conversion would make it westbound." While anyone in or passing through that area would obviously benefit from this measure, the ones who stand to gain the most are the people who eventually occupy the massive upscale condos at 160 Imlay Street, site of the former New York Dock Building. The proposal was unanimously approved by the transportation committee and will be presented to the CB6 general board for a final vote October 14.

Rendering of the residential development at the the former New York Dock building by AA Studio

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The New York State Homeowners Credit is a law that became effective in 2009 and earns eligible tenant-shareholders and unit-owners of co-op and condo apartments tax credits for doing repairs to the exterior and interior of the building. When the homeowners tax credit was first being developed, Murray Gould, principal in Port City Preservation, a company that assists buildings in getting tax credits, was among those pushing to include co-ops and condos. "I felt they should have equal footing with the classic single-family historic house," he says now. Once it passed, the new law changed the definition of a historic home to include buildings that just happened to be condominiums or cooperatives. "In New York State, you earn a 20 percent credit for the work that is done: a dollar for dollar offset against [your] tax liability," says Gould.

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In July, the Second Friendship Baptist Church sold the horse stable-turned church building to a private buyer for $1.5 million. A couple of weeks later, the city approved the new owner's plan to demolish it. It's hardly a surprise that, in a city where the divide between the haves and the have-nots continues to widen, longtime residents have to pack it in because they can't keep up with skyrocketing rents — never mind the expenses required to maintain an old, charming building. But it is certainly always sad to see a rare old structure like this former horse stable get knocked down so a six-story building can rise in its place. The local block association seems to agree; it is still trying to save at least part of the church. "What we are hoping is to save the façade or incorporate the design of the façade into the new design," Cindy Worley, who has lived on the block more than 30 years, told DNAinfo. "I think it would be a benefit to have a set of condos on the street reminiscent of the carriage house. I mean you could call it the 'Stable House.'" Citing records, DNAinfo reports that "plans for a new building were filed [late last week] and have not yet been approved by the Department of Buildings." As for the new owner, mum's the word for now. In the meantime, the block association has its work cut out for it. Like savvy New Yorkers, however, they seem to have realized that if they cannot appeal to the new owner's sense nostalgia, perhaps they can appeal to the wallet: "By saving what is left of the stable the developers could benefit from tax credits, similar to the ones the developers of the Corn Exchange Building received."

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Ask the Experts

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Learn all the basics of NYC co-op and condo management, with straight talk from heavy hitters in the field of co-op or condo apartments

Professionals in some of the key fields of co-op and condo board governance and building management answer common questions in their areas of expertise

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