Not long ago, Warren Schreiber was looking to get information on termite control for the Bay Terrace Cooperative Section I, where he serves as board president. Schreiber could have reached for the phone book and started calling pest control companies. Instead, he reached out to a group of other co-op and condo board presidents to get recommendations and learn from their experiences. And it wasn’t the first time either.
Schreiber is one of 32 board presidents in eastern Queens who are members of an unusual organization called the Presidents’ Co-op Council. Using e-mail, members post questions to the group about how to improve the care of their buildings; other board members respond with suggestions. “It gives us an opportunity to run ideas past the other presidents to find out how other co-ops are doing things,” says Schreiber. In the case of the termite situation, his 200-unit Bay Terrace co-op was considering switching from standard liquid termidicide to a baiting system.
“I posted that question to the group and they were able to give me the names of pest control companies they were using,” says Schreiber. In the end, the co-op chose a different company than those recommended by the group, but the information was still crucial. “Instead of having three bids, we had proposals from six or seven different companies,” he notes. “It gave us a better feel for what was going on.” After the co-op decided to go with baiting, Schreiber e-mailed the group so it could learn from his experience.
That’s exactly how the group’s founder hoped the system would work. Bob Friedrich, board president of Glen Oaks Village, says he came up with the idea for the council about two and a half years ago when he noticed some nice new doors at a neighboring co-op. “I wondered how they did it, but then I realized I had no idea how to get in touch with that co-op board president,” recalls Friedrich, who has served on the board of the 2,904-unit cooperative in Glen Oaks for 13 years and is running for city council next year.
Over a few months, he went door-to-door at cooperatives in eastern Queens and left his business card with managing agents, asking them to give his contact information to their presidents.
“I consider myself to be a pretty successful board president, but I don’t have a monopoly on answers or suggestions,” Friedrich admits. “I knew there had to be a way to reach out to presidents who are facing the same type of issues to find out how they deal with problems and see what they’ve done.”
The other presidents eagerly responded and the group came together. Some of the members have also spread the word to other presidents they know, further enlarging the pool. Since its inception, the group has traded information about which contractors to use to handle asbestos abatement and elevator repairs; finding a new managing agent; whether it’s better to pay for a big project with a loan or an assessment; how to financially evaluate buyers; and how to handle a variety of shareholder concerns.
Member Paul Schwartz even posted to the group when his co-op was looking to sell a gas-powered golf cart it no longer needed. He had little luck with Craig’s List but found a handful of interested buyers when he posted to the presidents. Schwartz, who leads the 248-unit Kennedy Street Quad in Bayside, says the organization is particularly helpful for presidents like him who have served for only a short period of time. He adds that the co-op’s managing agent has welcomed the extra information. “They fully understand that they answer to the board and the information can go from them to us or from us to them.”
The other way the group has been helpful, Friedrich says, is in political activism. The members got involved when the New York City Council considered a measure that would have required co-op boards to give reasons for refusing to accept buyers. The group met with council members and wrote letters, he says. “We have 32 co-ops that represent about 20,000 units of housing – that is potentially 40,000 voters,” Friedrich says. The bill to require reasons for rejection has been the only political issue the group acted on so far.
“Our organization is more about helping other board members run their co-ops,” he says. “We’ll get involved in a political issue if we feel it will be detrimental to co-ops, but generally there are not many bills that are really bad.”
Friedrich says it would not be hard for other co-ops to emulate his group. First, look in your immediate geographic area. This is helpful because neighboring co-ops and condos often have similar concerns. (For example, in eastern Queens, there are few mass-transit options so roads and parking are of paramount importance.) “It also gives you a very strong voice with your local councilman,” he says. Walk or drive around to other co-ops and condos and indicate to managing agents or superintendents that you want to get in touch with the board president. Once you connect, almost any e-mail system will allow you to e-mail a group.
While many boards are members of the Council of New York Cooperatives & Condominiums and/or the Federation of New York Housing Cooperatives & Condominiums, Friedrich says it is still a good idea to organize locally. “Those are very good groups that really work for co-ops and condos citywide,” he explains. “But our primary purpose is to give presidents an opportunity to speak to each other to help them manage their buildings.”
Schreiber, of Bay Terrace, says he has used information from the presidents’ group when going back to his board. “As a matter of fact, my board has become so used to the idea that we’ll have something come up at a meeting and someone will suggest we table this for a month and put it to the presidents’ council to see what kind of answers we get.”