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Habitat Magazine Insider Guide



Respect Is Not A Four-Letter Word

Fraya Berg
President, Tribeca Court Condominium Association, Manhattan


It’s all about respect.

I moved into this building – a condominium association with twenty-one residential and two commercial units – after living in a loft where we had no system for trash: no pick-up, no bins, no super to take it to the street for us. As a single mom with a toddler, if I remembered to take the trash out while my son was awake and could go with me in the elevator, great. If I forgot, I’d have to walk it down and then walk it back up, since I was afraid of being stuck in a stalled elevator while he was alone. When I saw that the building I now live in had a garbage chute I was ecstatic. No more timing the garbage runs around the sleep schedule. No more keeping smelly garbage in my apartment!

The chute came with rules, easy enough to understand. No glass, no newspapers or magazines, no cat litter: really easy to follow, not a problem. At the time, recycling had been suspended in New York City. That’s when I learned that not everyone is able to follow simple rules.

The first instances were minor: the compactor would jam, the garbage was a mess. I made signs, had them laminated; put them up on every floor over the chute. Not much help. Then it got serious: wine bottles in the chute, broken glass protruding out the side of a bag, and the porter ends up with 27 stitches in his leg. Why couldn’t my neighbors get it?

What I’ve learned is this: it all comes down to balance and respect.

At every annual owners meeting, I make the speech about the garbage rules and the recycling. I explain it up, down, and sideways. But the main message is that we need to have enough respect for our amazingly dedicated super. It is disrespectful to put 17 unwashed cat food cans in the recycling: we get flies and, by the way, it stinks. Signs don’t do much of anything.

I don’t understand why it’s so much trouble for everyone to simply sort his or her trash. We’ve put up signs in several languages, even signs without words. Not much worked. And then, as with so many problems, the solution has come back to respect. The main way to solve this or any problem is a calm, face-to-face chat. Be it about smoking in the stairwells, the garbage, or noise, treating your neighbors with respect is the only way to go. It is and is not a board issue. The general approach is a issue for the board, but our experience is that most problems are solved in a much more personal way.

With four residential members on the board, we have four distinct strengths. Figuring out who should speak to whom with any given issue isn’t that difficult. The finance guy speaks to issues about common charges. The lawyer can speak to legal issues. The psychologist is great at figuring out what a problem is when no one else can, and I’m the answer mom: the “go-to” person for borrowing a drill or getting info on the best place to have a child’s birthday party. Having been placed in that role makes it easy for me to broach most subjects.

Ultimately, the best way to handle problems in the building is to let the managing agent deal with the big stuff so that neighbors can get along and cope with the small stuff. The real day-to-day is: let’s make our lives a little easier and the quality of life a little better when dealing with issues like garbage and noise. Dividing up the task of bringing problems down to the small chat level has lightened all board member’s loads, leaving more time for family.

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