New York's Cooperative and Condominium Community

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Rinse Request

The co-op board of a 22-unit on Amsterdam Avenue in Manhattan is facing a problem. One of the shareholders has petitioned the board to be allowed to install a washer and dryer in his apartment. While the board is sympathetic — the shareholder lives on the sixth floor, the machines are in the basement, and the building has no elevator — the clause in the laundry contract prohibits the board from "encouraging" shareholders to install their own private washing machines and dryers.

What's a board to do?

To say "no" seems overly inflexible. But to say "yes" opens a Pandora's box of problems. "It was difficult to get a service provider who would lease machines to a small building," recalls the treasurer, Frank Basloe. "As part of the agreement we're not supposed to encourage tenants to put in laundry units in individual units. There's also concern about the strain it does put on the plumbing and beyond that, the financial concern of lost revenue. For our particular building, the machines bring in a couple of thousand dollars a year. It's a pretty steady flow of income."

For boards of small buildings, allowing a shareholder to install a washer/dryer can be a minefield. First, there is the loss of revenue — the co-op on Amsterdam Avenue makes about $2,300 a year in income from its laundry room. Second, there is the additional strain on the pipes. And third, there's the risk of losing the building's laundry contract with the company leasing the machines.

Bob Savino, president of Automatic Industries, which charges co-ops between $35 to $40 per machine rental, says that if he can't make $70 to $80 a month on a rental, it doesn't pay to have a contract with a building.

Others have similar policies. "If we have a contract or lease with a building, we expect to be the only ones to provide laundry services in the building," observes Mark Sperry, multi-housing manager for Fowler Companies, a laundry leasing service. The company charges about $6 per apartment for washer and dryer rental: a minimum lease is $60 a month, and covers the rental fee of one washer and one dryer.

"We have an option to get out of our deals if we are not making a certain amount of income. We technically even have a clause saying that the building will not permit the installation of washers and dryers in individual units," says Ronald Garfunkle, president of Service Directions, another leasing company. The firm has to make at minimum of $100 per month for it to be worthwhile to service a building with less than 25 units. "If we are on a 'first-dollar deal,' where we pay the building over our base minimum, we will stay in the building as long as we are over our base." Once the company sees usage go down precipitously, however, it will pull out.

So how does the board get around the conundrum and keep a sixth-floor shareholder happy while maintaining laundry room facilities for everyone else? One possibility may be to purchase the laundry room machines outright. After paying the monthly service contract, the building only nets a grand total of $156 from its laundry room use, points out the building's super. If the shareholders purchased the machines, "it would cost about $3,500" for the two washers and two dryers, which the building could pay off in a year-and-a-half through regular use of the rooms.

Well, that would be regular use, minus the laundry of the shareholder who had installed his own washer and dryer in his apartment. Basloe says the problem could be met by charging that shareholder a surcharge of about $20 a month to keep the building's laundry revenue stream from being depleted.

Some presidents and managing agents, however, say the answer is to just say no. "Co-ops are generally older buildings and the plumbing that was installed years ago was not meant to sustain added water pressures. We recommend highly against it," maintains David Khazzam, senior vice president of PRC Management.

"Pipes burst. Accidents happen. Floods happen," points out Shakirah Wadud, president of the Urban Collective, a management company that oversees five buildings, all of them co-ops with less than 48 units each. All of her co-ops prohibit individual washer/dryers, but that didn't stop one shareholder from having one illegally installed. And the fallout was almost immediate.

"The kitchen floor was not sturdy enough to hold the machine. The machine started to dig into the floor, started to sink, a pipe bust and the bathroom ceiling fell" in the apartment below. The shareholder had to pay for the repairs in her own unit, says Wadud, and also for the repairs in the downstairs shareholder's.

Other managing agents and board presidents tick off a similar list of problems that come with allowing residents to install personal washer/dryer units: overworked pipes that have to discharge gallons of water each time a washing machine cycle is finished; fibers from clothes clogging those self-same pipes; and safety issues — most shareholders don't know that dryer vents need to be thoroughly cleaned once a year to prevent potential fires.

In one instance where bigger may be better when it comes to solving the laundry conundrum, one 112-unit on the Upper East Side found a novel way out of the problem of shareholders desiring their own washers and dryers. The board announced that anyone who wanted a washing machine could have one, but, at the same time, had to install a tub into which the water from the machine would first drain. In this way, the pipes were protected from a sudden onslaught of gallons of water each time someone used a washing machine in an apartment, and shareholders thought twice about carving out space in their homes for an extra tub.

"Not a lot of people want to give up space for an extra tub," observes Mike Burns, the president. And as for those families who took the plunge and bought washing machines and dryers, they are still often seen using the basement facilities, which are leased from a laundry services company. "Even though they have washing machines in their apartment, the machines in the basement are bigger."




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