New York's Cooperative and Condominium Community

Habitat Magazine Business of Management 2021

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ARCHIVE ARTICLE

Serving - and Saving – My Condo

Ken Daniels, Board President, Glenridge Mews Condominium Association, Queens

In the 1970s and the 1980s, like many New Yorkers, I was a renter. For two years, I was president of a tenants association representing 20,000 tenants. In the late 1970s, the borough president of Queens appointed me to serve as a member of my local community planning board. For 18 years, I worked with my fellow community board members and the local political leaders to improve the quality of life in my neighborhood.

After paying rent for over 20 years, and with everything in sight (except my complex) being converted into co-ops and condos, I decided to invest in home ownership. In 1991, I purchased a condominium in Queens. This property was previously a coal and ice factory built in 1903 and was lying dormant for many years. It consisted of apartment buildings, duplexes, and townhouses for a total of 64 units. Even the parking spaces were sold as condominiums. This was my introduction to home ownership.

It eventually became more and more evident that many structural and construction defects and problems were occurring. Eventually, we sued the sponsor, and the board accepted a first settlement offer as payment in full for all defects. Big mistake. About four years ago, with almost no money left, the condo was close to bankruptcy. After thousands of dollars in assessments and the attempted firing of our two building workers – an action our bylaws prohibit – many of my fellow owners and I realized that a drastic change was necessary to save our condo.

I subsequently joined a slate of fellow owners who swept out the five-member board at our annual election. The new board, consisting of some very talented owners, elected me president. Our task, as I saw it: restore financial stability.

To that end, we felt that it was very important to try to secure outside funds instead of continuing to use our fellow owners as cash cows. With the help of our new managing agent, we implemented the following, some of which had already been started:

We rented air space. We secured a mobile phone company cell site on one of our roofs and immediately began receiving a rental fee of $35,000 with a 30-year contract. Later on we secured a second cell phone site on another roof also for a 30-year rental and at a higher rate.

We used energy-efficient bulbs and boilers. As the funds starting flowing in, we wanted to further reduce our expenses. First, we replaced every single light in the common areas, courtyards, and lobbies with energy-efficient bulbs. Over a two-year period, we replaced all four of our boilers, as well as our four water heaters with state-of-the-art computerized boilers. In one year, we reduced our fuel and energy expenses by almost 40 percent.

We sold air space. Then, we received an offer to purchase one of our cell sites. We sold the first one and received almost a quarter of a million dollars, while we kept the second site and its monetary income.

At present, we have taken care of all needed repairs and upgrades to our property as well as our day-to-day expenses. Our common charges have been raised only five percent in the past two years, and we have invested almost $200,000 in bank CDs and our reserves. To my mind, this all shows that condo boards should look for outside income instead of relying on their fellow owners for every dollar. (P.S. We just received an offer of over $300,000 to purchase our second cell site, which we refused.)

I am now trying to apply the same procedures to another condo that I purchased upstate and which is facing a similar financial situation. I am serving on that board for a three-year term and am the board parliamentarian (we have a nine-member board). We have already reached out to some phone companies and they are considering our condo (eight buildings, 456 units) for cell sites on our roofs. Here’s hoping success will follow me there, providing, in Yogi Berra’s famous phrase, “déjà vu all over again.”

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