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Do the Right Thing

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She thought the board had it in for her. A lawyer, she was a tenant-shareholder in a small Manhattan cooperative. She had tried to sell her unit. But the board had turned her potential buyer down – for undisclosed reasons – and she had often remarked on what she saw as the unfairness of the rejection. She then began an unauthorized sublease that was later approved retroactively by the board.

This woman – whom we’ll call Sally – liked to write long-winded and rambling e-mails, often tinged with sarcasm, and always dropping in gratuitous, unnecessary phrases (like the comment that she would be traveling outside “the continental United States” – as if there were some possibility of thinking that she would be traveling outside the non-continental U.S., i.e. Hawaii).

Sally’s latest run-in with the board involved her negligence in renewing her sublet within the allotted time period. The board politely informed her that she was violating the rules, but in her replies, she put all the blame for the rule-breaking on the board, which in her view has been slipshod and unclear in its dealings with her. “Because there was a three-month lag in your reply to my request, I did not perceive the distribution [i.e., the lease renewal] as urgent,” she said, as though it was the board’s duty to remind her of her responsibilities under her sublet agreement with the corporation. “[My subtenant] initially asked for a two-year sublease and the board said no without explanation,” she added, painting the board as unreasonable and arbitrary in its decision-making.

She further added with sarcasm meant to be biting: “To assuage concerns that I may abscond with the sublet fee, I am glad to leave a check as a good faith deposit that would be applied to the sublet and cover the pro-rated amount between now and the date that [the sublessee] and I get an executed lease. [The sublessee] is busy becoming a brilliant surgeon so I have not harassed him. But I will now harass him because it was made clear to me how critical it is to get the fee to the board,” she noted, as if to say, “That nasty board, they suddenly want money and an agreement. That wasn’t CLEAR to me before.” Right.

A later missive is even more misleading: “[The super] came by my apartment this evening after 6. I have tried reaching him… for a few weeks and got no reply. The visit today was unexpected and he didn’t look at the issue that I need help with. I actually needed him to address an emergency issue and he said he would come back tomorrow. Hopefully he will come by tomorrow.”

To the board, that didn’t sound like the normal way the building’s super behaved in an emergency. If there were a leak, he was on it. Sure enough, when the board president spoke to the super, he found that Sally’s version bore little resemblance to reality. Yes, she had called him a few weeks ago. But it wasn’t about the leak. It was about giving her a quote on a new dishwasher. He said he never responded because in the past, when he gave her quotes, she didn’t use him or even respond. Even though he should have called her back, his reaction is understandable: it wasn’t an emergency.

What the super had actually come to see her about was the illegal use of a contractor to perform work in her apartment. When confronted, she told him it was minor – which is not the point, since the rules clearly state the paperwork needed by the board before any outside contractor can work in the building – and a question remained as to how minor it was. She showed the super a piece of pipe from her sink and said it needed to be replaced. Who took the piping out? The contractor? And did he worsen (or even cause) the leak while doing minor work in the apartment? To top it off, he left a mess in the lobby.

What’s a board to do with such a person? My suggestion: tempting as it is to throw the rule book at her, just grin and be as polite as you can, as you enforce the rules without bias and with as much grace as you can muster. Remember: she’s a lawyer, she could be litigious, and you don’t want to give her any grounds to sue. Just count to 10 and keep on smiling.

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