New York's Cooperative and Condominium Community

Habitat Magazine Insider Guide



Helping the Helpless

As older shareholders grow increasingly isolated from friends and family and suffer physical and mental illness, co-op boards and shareholders generally could be the first and, sadly, in some instances, the only people to notice. When ignored, some problems can affect all shareholders, from infestations by roaches and mice in some seniors’ apartments to anti-social behavior and even urination in public spaces.

What can a co-op do? Perhaps the first call should be to the office of Adult Protective Services (APS). APS is a state-mandated program that provides services to people 18 years of age or older, irrespective of income. It is designed to help those adults who are mentally or physically impaired and unable to manage their own resources, carry out the activities of daily living, or protect themselves from neglect or hazardous situations without help. Individuals who appear eligible for services will be visited within three working days (within 24 hours in life-threatening situations) by an APS caseworker.

“We’ve had good success with an end result that all parties have been pleased with,” says Arline Kob, principal at Key Real Estate Associates, who has called APS four times in the last three years.

When she needs the service, Kob calls and faxes APS a letter simultaneously, explaining the situation and why the person is a candidate for help. Circumstances where APS may be brought in could involve personal hygiene of the individuals and/or their apartments; or they may need assistance with fiscal matters, she says. She has found the service responsive but advises co-ops to keep documentation and stick with the plan once the decision is made to bring in APS.

Friends, relatives, neighbors, or any concerned individual within the community can make referrals to APS. Medical and social work personnel, private and government agencies or the courts may also be the first to call APS.

Managing agents say the response time is quick but the results can be mixed. Barry Benami, a property manager with Argo Corporation, has called APS twice in the last five years. One case involved a 90-year-old tenant with a rodent problem – shareholders were reporting mice entering and leaving the premises. With no family to call, Benami contacted APS, which then spoke to the woman and arranged to have the apartment cleaned and some of the accumulated clutter removed. In that case, it was a relatively simple matter to resolve the issue. The second instance was not so agreeably settled. “A male tenant in a rent-stabilized apartment in the co-op would appear in the lobby in a semi-dressed state,” Benami says. “He harassed the doorman, and would urinate in the hallways and within his apartment.” After complaints from shareholders about the behavior and some “obnoxious” odors from the apartment, Benami called APS on behalf of the building. But while APS responded immediately and arranged a psychiatric evaluation of the man, he was found to be “normal.”

That particular tenant has since died but one of the hurdles when APS is called is that, for the most part, the tenant has to agree to be helped. In both scenarios, APS made a decision and took action within a month of the initial phone call, Benami says, and each case was assigned a number so the building could follow up and know what was happening.

With some 5,130 active cases in May 2005, according to the figures from the New York City Department of Social Services Human Resources Administration, the APS is less busy than a year ago when it was dealing with 5,514 cases. Still, that recent number is a 48 percent jump on the number from May 2000. One troubling sign is that the total number of referrals received of 1,306 in May is 16 percent higher than the same period a year ago. Worse, it’s 86 percent higher than the 702 referrals received in May 2000 (though that could be a sign of increased awareness of the service).

Situations where shareholders are a problem are not something for which co-ops wish to be known. But a board member, who declined to be identified, says it’s not just the elderly who may need the help of APS. It’s anyone who is interfering with other people’s quiet enjoyment of their apartments and the building. In her experience, a board is reluctant to get involved because the board often perceives its role as maintaining the building and not as a “caregiver” to needful tenants. Nonetheless, she agrees that, in instances where a person or people are affecting the lives of residents, a board should step in.

Some cases where APS has been called for help have not been resolved quickly, she adds, but in all situations the arrangements made by APS have “really helped the person and gotten rid of the problem.” Managing agents are important to the entire process, she notes, since they are overseeing the issue and its solution on a day-to-day basis. Her advice to a board faced with a situation where APS will be called is to be sensitive to the problem since everyone lives in the same building. And boards should be practical about what APS can do. “The board could be upset if it thinks it should happen overnight,” she warns. That is “very unrealistic.”

Although managing agents all describe prompt service from APS, the city agency did not return repeated phone calls nor e-mailed questions from Habitat other than to note: “Much of the information you asked for is and has always been on our website.” That website says services may include financial management, help in accessing medical and homecare services, and assistance in obtaining governmental entitlements. APS can also petition for guardians for persons who require involuntary legal intervention to insure their safety and/or that of their property. General information regarding APS can be found by calling the Central Intake Referral Line at (212)-630-1853. Information on individual cases can be acquired through the borough offices.

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