An idiosyncratic guide to sources of board
education and information.
Renee Serlin, the president of her Manhattan co-op, produced and directed documentary films in England. She wrote about digital security cameras in the January 2006 issue.
A question for all board directors: if your building is fortunate enough to have a competent property manager and you have other competent professionals that you can call on for advice, do you really need to put in the time and effort required for educating yourself on the issues that you’re handling?
Answer (from everyone even remotely connected to the industry): you better believe it! You might be fortunate enough to have one or even two people on the board who are doing all the legwork for you – keeping up to date with developments in co-op and condo regulations, attending workshops and seminars that cover the ground – but, if no one is doing it, you could be losing out. Big time.
There are five main avenues to explore. No one needs to pursue all the leads, but linking up with a few of these sources will provide the best opportunities for being educated in crucial areas, for keeping up to date with key issues, and for accessing important data on your building:
1. other people’s solutions
2. workshops and seminars
3. print sources
5. personal, one-on-one responses
1. OTHER PEOPLE’S SOLUTIONS
One of the least known sources for learning how to deal with board matters is to examine the way other buildings have managed. If you know where to look, a few really savvy buildings have so organized their building’s affairs that almost everything is online – amazing reservoirs of information available to explore. For example, what kind of alteration agreement do they use? What kind of policies do they have regarding pets or admissions? Do they charge fees for certain services, and how much? In some cases, you can see the decisions they make regarding maintenance increases and even details of how they budget for the building’s operations; or you can watch as they handle elevator renovations or their Local Law 11 façade work.
Three Hundred Fifty Bleecker Street is a 120-unit cooperative in the West Village. Jim Kafadar, who writes most of what’s up on the building’s website, says it may currently have up to 3,000 pages of information. Locating items in that wealth of material is never a problem because the site is searchable with free software provided by Google. The meat of the site, says Kafadar, is the “FAQ” page that, in a concise package, provides all the basic data on the building that anyone might need. But the corporate documents are also online and the huge benefit that goes along with that is that they’re all searchable. By now, as Kafadar points out, none of the board members could work without the site as a reference point. “There are a lot of rules in a co-op. And no one can know them all.”
An archive on the site allows you to access every newsletter the co-op has published. It proides a history of how issues have been dealt with, and a store of ideas for handling the problems that are common to many buildings. Kafadar points to the discussion about elevators, which could be a primer on how to go about getting shareholder consensus on a major project: “We’ve been talking about the elevators for months, and that’s how we formulated a policy. By being very open, we really got a sense that the building really didn’t want just a simple renovation.”
The Nabors Apartments Corporation is a Washington Heights cooperative consisting of three buildings and over 100 units. Eduardo Gomez is the powerhouse behind this website. He not only put together a comprehensive website but has collated all the property’s policies and information into an extensive handbook, accessible and searchable on the website. This, he admits, was a big project but he was motivated to do it as a new owner when he became acutely aware of the need to have better access to all the complexities of co-op rules and regulations. The handbook alone provides a wealth of useful information, not just to Nabors residents, but also to any co-op or condo residents looking for guidelines to solving their own problems. Check in to see how Nabors has dealt with sublets, storage facilities, washing machines in apartments, and pets.
This is one of the most formidably organized building websites to be found on the web. A list of official documents available includes the alteration agreement, the bike room agreement, a “welcome to the building” packet, and a work order form. Not only is there an archive of newsletters from 1999 onwards, but also the linking site carries a list of the subjects covered in each edition. You can read items dealing with holiday tipping, repairs, a major disruption in 2005, and a list of the “Ten Documents You Shouldn’t Live Without.”
Penn South is a huge complex of nearly 3,000 apartments in the Chelsea area of Manhattan. This co-op has set up another superbly organized site. You can access a fascinating description of the history of the cooperative and the way it has managed to negotiate with the city concerning tax demands on the complex. The most recent newsletter carries a detailed account of how they have gone about trying to reduce their utility and energy costs. Past newsletters cover the progress of elevator modernizations in the various buildings.
Seward Park Housing Corporation, an over 2,000-unit co-op on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, has an extensive website dealing with such issues as lobby renovations, security, and storage bin waiting lists. Various corporate documents are accessible on the site and also the co-op’s financial statements for 2003 and 2004. This is the official site sponsored by the board. You can also go to a somewhat aggressive alternative site, which is run by a shareholder: www.spbuzz.org.
Morningside Heights Housing Corporation, on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, has an extensive list of documents in PDF format. Besides an alteration agreement, the board also makes available documents that provide advice or instructions on a number of other issues. The list includes apartment painting guidelines, an apartment painting agreement, an “intent to sell” document, and a set of sublet procedures. A separate page, dealing with renovations and painting, has links to several documents, including one on using contractors.
A few other sites to check out are:
2. WORKSHOPS AND SEMINARS
This is an area where, besides getting valuable training, you can also network with other board members and interact with professionals in the industry. No other part of the country has such a remarkable array of events available, many provided at minimal or even no charge.
Council of New York Cooperatives & Condominiums (CNYC)
250 West 57th Street, Suite 730
New York, N.Y. 10107-0730
Membership fees: $75 base fee plus $3 per apartment to a maximum of $1,000. New members are charged a registration fee of $5 per unit to a maximum of $150.
Workshops. CNYC is a unique organization providing the most comprehensive series of workshops and seminars on co-op and condo matters anywhere. Founded in 1975, it now has a membership of over 2,200 housing co-ops and condo buildings in the New York area. Executive Director Mary Ann Rothman was the driving force behind the creation of this organization and has gradually built it up until, today, it is one of the most powerful advocates for co-op and condo residents. Its main mission is to educate, and a number of evening workshops are organized throughout the year. The most well-attended event is always the “Workshop for Building Treasurers,” but a workshop on mold also drew a standing-room-only crowd. A list of current workshops is mailed to all members and can also be found on the council’s website. Most workshops are free of charge to members.
Conference. Every November, CNYC holds a one-day conference. The 2005 event provided an incredible roster of 70 different workshops given by some of the most prominent people in the industry. Rothman says that the most sought-after workshops at the conference are, again, the ones dealing with financial issues. “Everyone is worried about what it costs to run a building,” she notes, so this is always a hot topic. If you move fast enough during the breaks between seminars, you can go to the exhibitors’ area and discuss your building’s problems with service providers in every field. Members of CNYC can send one person to the conference without charge. A minimal fee applies for additional attendees.
Federation of New York Housing Cooperatives & Condominiums (FNYHC)
61-20 Grand Central Parkway Suite C110 Forest Hills, N.Y. 11375
Membership fee for co-op or condo buildings: $3 per unit with a minimum of $50 and a maximum of $900. www.fnyhc.coop
The FNYHC, like CNYC, represents the interests of housing cooperatives and condominiums. It was the earliest organization in New York City to take on this role, dating from 1953, and its late, long-time leader Charlie Rappaport was, besides being an ubiquitous presence in the co-op and condo world, a big booster of owner education. (His favorite saying was: “An informed board is an effective board.”) The bulk of its membership, at present, is concentrated in Queens, but its educational activities serve the needs of boards throughout the city.
The federation’s annual all-day educational conference will be held on Saturday, April 29 this year. Federation and CNYC members pay $65 for the first attendee (including lunch) and $50 for each additional person. For non-members, the charge is $125. This year, says Executive Director Greg Carlson, the lecturers will address subjects as varied as revenue-producing services for buildings and mold and lead paint issues. If you’re not interested in a particular session, there will be exhibitors to visit. As in past years, an attorneys’ discussion group in the afternoon will take individual questions, so this is a good opportunity to get some free legal advice on issues that concern you.
New York Association of Real Estate Managers (NYARM)
500 Eighth Avenue, Suite 1212
New York, N.Y. 10018
NYARM represents the interests of professionals in property management. Margie Russell, executive director, stresses the need for boards to be informed about the educational material available to their managers. An ideal opportunity to stay abreast of these sources is the association’s annual fall conference, scheduled for Wednesday, September 27, 2006. Seminars at the conference are aimed at the association’s professional membership and provide appropriately detailed coverage of a topic. NYARM’s monthly workshops are exclusively for members but the conference is open to non-members at no charge. Full details will be posted on NYARM’s website where you can also access a monthly newsletter. This carries some succinct and highly informational articles, including a regular column by Greg Carlson of FNYHC.
New York City Department of Housing Preservation & Development (HPD)
Housing Education Services, New York City Department of Housing Preservation & Development
100 Gold Street, New York, N.Y. 10038 212-863-8830
HPD provides something akin to a free “people’s university” in building and management subjects. Courses are mainly provided to maintain housing stock in the city, but anyone can apply to attend the classes. You can opt for daytime or evening sessions. Free course materials, written and assembled by the HPD staff, are provided. A three-hour water-and-energy conservation seminar looks at billing, metering, and water-saving practices, among other issues. A two-part boiler course will open your eyes to some of the intricacies of operating the heating system in your building and allow you to grasp some of the concepts involved when heating issues are discussed.
Community Housing Improvement Program (CHIP)
545 Madison Avenue, 13th floor
New York, N.Y. 10022
Membership fee: $500
CHIP was founded 20 years ago to help owners of apartment buildings succeed in New York and to represent the interests of landlords in the fight against rent regulations. It now has over 2,500 members and, in addition to advocacy, it provides constantly updated information and education for its membership, much of which is of equal value to other property owners. Weekday morning seminars are organized throughout the year. Each covers one subject in depth with a panel of experts. Breakfast is included in the price and there is an opportunity to talk to the panelists individually. Recent subjects were utility costs and surveillance technology. CNYC members receive notice of upcoming seminars and the information is also available in a monthly newsletter, CHIP Advisor, that can be accessed on the organization’s website. Non-members are welcome at the seminars for a fee of $50.
3. PRINT SOURCES
An invaluable resource. You have to be a member to receive the newsletter and other postings, but the contents are also accessible on the council’s website. Lloyd Chrein, webmaster for both CNYC and FNYHC, says that the newsletters aren’t stored by date but articles from each issue are accessible by keyword search. He notes that the most popular search term on the site has been “flip taxes.”
CNYC Comparative Study of Building Operating Costs
Once a year, members receive a copy of the council’s latest survey of building operating costs (data comes from public records and annual financial statements supplied by members). Non-members can purchase copies of the survey for $15. The study analyzes the various costs of operating a building on a per-room, per-year basis.
A weekly column, by Jay Romano, in the Sunday New York Times real estate section.
Romano often tackles, in an authoritative way, unusual items that you didn’t even realize you needed to know about. A recent column dealt with the obscure but vital issue of getting lint out of dryer vents, highlighting the astonishing statistic that, in 1998, more than 15,000 fires were attributable to overheated clothes dryers. When he was first offered the column, Romano despaired that he would ever find anything to write about. Ten years later, he is still uncovering critical issues.
The New York Co-Op Bible
By Sylvia Shapiro (St. Martin’s Books, 2005. $19.95. www.stmartins.com)
Originally published in 1998 and recently updated, much of this book provides guidance for people wanting to buy into a co-op or condo. Shapiro, as a long-time board president herself, knows whereof she speaks and is critical of the way boards can make life unnecessarily difficult, not just for purchasers but also for shareholders. Basically, this is the voice of experience giving you her take on many of the issues that boards have to deal with at one time or another.
2006 New York City Apartment Management Checklist
(The Vendome Group, 149 Fifth Avenue, 10th Floor, New York, N.Y. 10010. $87) Not available in bookstores. It can be ordered from www.vendomegrp.com or at 800-519-3692. (A 20 percent discount is being offered to readers of this article. To take advantage of this offer, order the book directly from Joyce Lembo, account sales manager, 212-812-8971.)
This is an annually updated compilation of the laws and regulations that affect co-ops and condos in the city. If you are a self-managed building, this book should be a fixture at your site. If you are not self-managed, but believe that you should have at least a glancing knowledge of the crucial filings and other legal requirements that your management firm handles, then this is the book for you. Each chapter offers a brief synopsis of what you need to know about different areas of the law. There are also detailed instructions on how to comply, together with deadlines, penalties for not complying, and a copy of any forms that might be involved.
Ganfer & Shore Legal Newsletter
360 Lexington Ave., 14th Floor
New York, N.Y. 10017
An informative free mailing that you can sign up for on this law firm’s website. Every month, you receive a single-sheet update on legal developments affecting co-ops or condos. The website carries a contents list dating back to January 2001. You can link to items directly on the site or refer back to your filed copies.
Murder in a Heat Wave
By Gretchen Sprague
(Worldwide Library, Toronto, April 2004. $5.99.)
The president of a New York co-op board is found murdered in his apartment after the building’s air-conditioning system breaks down. With much shareholder venom flying around, the culprit could be anyone in the building. An indomitable board member takes on yet another voluntary position as amateur sleuth (and board avenger?) and successfully tracks down the perp (no indication of whether maintenance had to go up the following year to cover incidentals).
4. WEBSITES TO BOOKMARK
Apart from the websites already mentioned, there are a few others with which you might want to keep in touch. A very useful alternative to bookmarking is setting up direct links to the sites on your computer desktop. Once you become familiar with the type of coverage each website provides, you’ll have a very good idea of which sites to search for any specific topic.
Community Housing Improvement Program (CHIP)
545 Madison Avenue, 13th floor
New York, N.Y. 10022
CHIP’s website is designed to provide all the advice and alerts that landlords might require. But there is also a considerable amount of information relevant to all property owners. A “Hot Links” page provides fast access to every city agency or building code that property owners might possibly need. Searchable, monthly newsletters are available online (and by mail to members). A recent edition included information on expanded J-51 tax abatement opportunities, projections for 2006 domestic energy prices, a report on a recent CHIP seminar on security technology, and updates on federal lead-safety work requirements.
Superintendents Technical Association (STA)
Att.: Dick Koral, New York City College of Technology, 300 Jay Street - H4
Brooklyn, N.Y. 11201
Peter Grech, president email@example.com
Almost every profession has its technical association. In 1998, the Supers Club of New York was founded to provide a professional association for superintendents, handymen, and maintenance workers. It was an ambitious undertaking, given that many people in this kind of work were poorly educated and had employers who gave them little incentive to improve. But the caliber of people running the association and the extent of their combined experience has resulted in the creation of a uniquely informative source that is now widely accessible through its website to anyone involved with the operation or management of buildings. A monthly newsletter, The Super, edited by Dick Koral, founder of STA and the director of the Apartment House Institute at the New York City College of Technology, is archived on the site.
New York City Department of Buildings (DOB)
280 Broadway, 7th floor, New York, N.Y. 10007. www.nyc.gov/buildings. Interactive Voice System: 212-566-5000 (see the website for the full list of section addresses and phone numbers).
The URL (website address) above is the simplest way to get to the home page of the DOB. The main page provides you with boxes (on the right) to enter your property’s address. You immediately go through to your “PROPERTY PROFILE OVERVIEW.” From there, you can check on any complaints and violations on your property, read the details of the complaint, and see which items are still outstanding. Certificates of Occupancy can be accessed; also the property’s Local Law 11 status and information about inspections and job filings can be found and inspected.
New York City Department of Finance (DOF)
Address unavailable. 212-504-4080
This is an important site to become familiar with because real estate taxes may soon be one of the most onerous issues facing boards. From the property home page, you have access to a huge amount of important information. Tax bills, itemized in detail, can be called up, as well as details of any abatements. Year-by-year statements of J-51 tax abatements allow you to see clearly when abatements are used up. The current market valuation on a property can be compared with past years or with valuations on neighboring properties. Data on any building is accessible simply by entering the address (or block and lot) of the property.
New York City Council
Contact information for your district’s council member can be found under the Constituent Center tab.
This is the legislative body of New York City and the site provides a reasonably user-friendly search function to find local laws (i.e., New York City laws) by year or by keyword. If you search the legislation by keyword and don’t know which year the law was passed, be sure the pull-down date menu is set to “ALL YEARS.” For instance, the key word “Carbon” on an “ALL YEARS” search brings up a link to Law 2004/007, the recent CO detector installation law. Click on the link and you are taken to the full description of the law. (If you ever happen to want a transcript of council proceedings, you’ll need to approach the city clerk who has, probably, the most distinctive of all of the many varied government addresses:
www.nycMarriageBureau.com. It’s really very logical: that’s why most people need the city clerk!)
Association Times: A Web Resource for Community Associations
This is a purely web-based association, sponsored by Associa, a management company operating in many areas of the country, though not as yet in New York. While it is intended as an educational resource for homeowner associations generally, the main focus is on condominiums. Monthly newsletters discuss board procedures, provide financial guidelines and carry advice on many issues. Archives can be searched by keyword or by subject headings. A link to New York State laws applicable to housing associations is an unusual addition to this site.
5. PERSONAL, ONE-ON-ONE RESPONSES
These can be obtained either via a forum or through a direct link to an expert in the field.
Council of New York Cooperatives & Condominiums (CNYC )
250 West 57th Street, Suite 730
New York, N.Y. 10107-0730
Mary Ann Rothman, executive director of the council, will take questions from members. Rothman says she gets queries on many subjects, but it’s probably noise issues and problems between neighbors that are the hardest to deal with in co-ops and condos and she has had many discussions with people trying to help them cope.
Federation of New York Housing Cooperatives & Condominiums (FNYHC)
61-20 Grand Central Parkway
Forest Hills, N.Y. 11375
Members of the federation can take their questions directly to Greg Carlson, the executive director of the organization. Carlson is also executive vice president of the NYARM board of directors, and president of Carlson Realty. If you are not able to speak with him, another FNYHC board member, Mona Shyman will take questions (firstname.lastname@example.org, 718-423-4438).
National Association of Housing Cooperatives (NAHC)
1707 H Street, NW, Suite 201
Washington, D.C. 20006
If you join CNYC or FNYHC, an additional fee of $1 per unit gives you NAHC membership as well. The NAHC is a collection of housing cooperatives, individuals, and professionals. It has an advocacy role in Washington but providing education and training for board members is an equally important part of its mission. None of the annual conferences and other events are held in New York City but Doug Kleine, executive director of NAHC, has a vast understanding of the issues faced by co-ops. He will respond to individual queries from members in any part of the country. You can reach him by phone, but he prefers e-mail. Officially, he will provide “technical assistance on issues that your co-op is faced with or questions about legislative issues.” Unofficially, he gets a tremendous number of questions from people asking for help with runaway boards, pet policies, and other co-op issues.
“Ask a Super Question” on the Superintendents Technical Association’s website (STA) www.nycsta.org
Although STA is intended as a resource for supers and other maintenance workers, it has a very inclusory policy and anyone can post a question on its website. Judging from the type of queries received, Peter Grech, STA president, estimates that about 70 percent or more of the e-mails come from “non-supers.” It’s one of the very few question-and-answer forums where you will nearly always get a response. The website provides for a keyword search of the whole site, including every one of the 700-plus archived questions.
“Q & A” column in The Sunday New York Times real estate section
Real Estate Q & A, The New York Times, 229 West 43rd St., New York, N.Y. 10036.
Every week, one or two questions from readers are answered. Letters to “Q & A” should be kept to about 130 words. Three-page letters will not survive into print. Letters are more likely to be selected for answering if the question raises an issue that hasn’t been covered.
SELF-PROMOTIONAL AND COMPETITIVE SOURCES
We would be remiss if we didn’t mention two other areas to turn to for some information. Herewith, we blow our own horn – and that of our competition as well.
Publisher: Carol Group Ltd., 150 W. 30th St., Suite 902
New York, N.Y. 10001. 212-505-2030
For nearly 25 years, this monthly magazine has been providing in-depth coverage of every issue that boards have to deal with. The website provides a comprehensive, searchable archive of past issues. One particularly useful feature is the bundled articles that bring together a package of items from various issues all dealing with the same topic. You can also get information from Habitat’s Board Talk Forum (www.habitatmag.com/forum.html), a discussion forum for board directors. Once you’ve registered, you can post a question or a comment on any issue concerning co-op or condo boards. If someone posts a reply to your message, you will be notified by e-mail. In most cases, you will get at least one reply and some threads are extensive. If you have an issue you’re concerned about, try a search, initially. In many cases, the issue has already been discussed, and you can either continue with that thread, or open a new one. Past threads have dealt with maintenance increases, inventory control for building supplies, and – one of the most active threads – the issue of why you should serve on the board.
Yale Robbins Publications, 102 Madison Ave.
New York, N.Y. 10016. 212-683-5700
A monthly newspaper dealing with co-op and condo issues. The Cooperator sponsors an annual expo, with educational seminars and hundreds of exhibitors.