In 1988, I arrived home one unassuming Friday evening to find an envelope by my apartment door containing what was later identified as “the black book.” My 75-unit rent-stabilized building was converting into a co-op. I had no idea how dramatically my life was about to change and how active and involved I would soon become in my property.
Having lived in my rent-stabilized apartment for roughly 12-plus years, I was far removed from the notion of home ownership, a concept reserved for others. I was surprised that amid all the chatter over the black book, no one called for a meeting with the residents. So I did. Many of the “insiders” (the name for existing rental tenants) were initially opposed and rejected this non-eviction plan as is; we later banded together, retained counsel and negotiated with the sponsor. Eventually, a revised offering plan was presented and I (and others but not all) purchased co-op shares to my apartment at “insider prices.” I was cautiously excited at the prospect of home ownership, building equity versus empty rent receipts; acutely unaware of the major challenges ahead and the senior board role I was to assume.
Fast-forward: Sponsor No. 1 was short-lived and sold to Sponsor No. 2 whose self-serving, manipulative, and questionable actions became increasingly apparent to me as a board officer. From withholding mortgage payments and maintenance default (on 45 units) to commingling sponsor/co-op funds, misappropriation of insurance funds, and many other wrongs, this sponsor plunged the co-op into near-bank foreclosure and financial disaster. While short on co-op knowledge but long on business experience, I confronted the sponsor amid a climate of abuse, misrepresentation, sponsor control, lies, and bullish threats. Fellow board members and I were fiercely determined to save our co-op from collapse and the contentious sponsor. With assistance from the New York State Attorney General’s Office and independent legal counsel, we embarked on an arduous, uphill struggle to turn things around. Eventually, the sponsor went to jail,
Regaining control of our co-op was a tremendous victory but now even more challenges lay ahead. Ever the optimist, I embraced the daunting challenge to rebuild corporate and financial stability. Moreover, I tried to instill an atmosphere of fiduciary responsibility, honesty, integrity, and a “yes we can” attitude! Thinking back, I worked full-time, then devoted much personal time to address a myriad of co-op issues such as mortgage negotiations; averting bank foreclosure and bankruptcy/receivership; engaging a new managing agent at the bank’s direction; retaining an outside, independent accountant to produce annual audited financial statements (not done by sponsor as required); funding the reserve fund and security deposit accounts (both stripped by sponsors); drafting the budget; containing corporate expenses; retaining a real estate broker and counsel for corporate sales; and keeping shareholders informed.
Fast-forward again. On the other side of 20 years, I’m proud of my dedicated board and its accomplishments. I’d do it all again albeit avoiding some pitfalls and possible burnout. When experiencing burnout, I mentally take a step back inside my head and reconnect with my altruistic reasons for serving. I’ve achieved personal and professional growth with insights about myself and others. I realized early on that taking on this level of (oftentimes) thankless responsibility, is more about inherent job satisfaction and making a difference than anything else.
Board service forces you to hone your skills, be resourceful and creative, problem-solve, look at situations from all sides, and undertake advance planning. I hope I’ve left an impression on my co-op; it certainly has left one on me.