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Habitat Magazine July/August 2020 free digital issue

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ARCHIVE ARTICLE

Voice From the Wall

The broker had brought my board an unsuitable potential buyer not once, but twice. And now she was asking us to “pre-screen” (her phrase, not mine) two potential buyers for the same apartment, letting her know which one was more likely to win approval.

And we were to make this “pre-decision” (my phrase) how?

With a kind of executive summary of the potential purchasers, that’s how. This summation gave breezy one-line rundowns of the would-be buyers’ financial stats that read more like want ads than an accurate financial picture that we could “pre-judge.”

As I wrote to the board: “We shouldn’t be in the business of ‘pre-clearing’ (whatever that means) anyone. We are being asked to make educated guesses about potential buyers. We should tell the broker the way to find out if we will ‘clear’ a potential buyer is for the buyer to fill out – in full – the application form. That’s what it’s there for. This ‘pre-clearing’ stuff is for the birds.”

But if you really wanted to “pre-screen” for something, how about pre-screening for noise? That’s one of the biggest problems in apartment house living, as I learned soon after I moved into my unit years ago. With little, if any, insulation in the walls, my life was like a 1930s radio drama – or farce. I could hear people talking in my neighbor’s bedroom – which abutted my bedroom – and although most of the time it would be a low murmur of indistinct voices, like something out of The Haunting. Other times it would be quite clear.

“I don’t know if I want to do that,” said a disembodied voice from the other side one evening. As I lay there in bed, trying to sleep, my mind would race with questions. What is it that he doesn’t want to do? Will he finally give in? And what was she saying? I sometimes felt like I was in a strange hybrid mystery, blending Wait Until Dark with Rear Window, and I was the man who heard too much but didn’t know what it meant.

On yet another night, I was startled when the disembodied voice actually spoke to me, albeit briefly. I sneezed loudly, and to my surprise (and consternation) a male voice on the other side said, “Bless you!” How much more did they hear of my conversations? Should I care?

I remember a dispute over noise that took place in another pair of units in the building. A fifth-floor owner complained to me – as her neighbor and as board president – about the noise being made at night in the apartment above her.

“I can’t sleep at night,” she said. “They’re always clomping around up there, opening drawers, and making all sorts of racket.” She said she had talked to them – a nice young couple – and asked me if I’d talk to them as well. The husband, a board member, told me that they were trying to be quiet but that their downstairs neighbor was a little over the top. “She was hitting her ceiling with a broom, telling us to be quiet,” he recalled. “But we weren’t making any noise.”

That noise dispute died suddenly and without warning. The fifth-floor owner phoned me one night at 10 and said, “They’re at it again, opening drawers and clomping around. Can you come up here and listen to what I have to put up with?”

I dutifully went upstairs, sat in a chair, and listened.

And heard nothing.

“They stopped,” she said. “Wait. It’ll start up again.”

So I waited. And waited. And waited. For 20 minutes. But no noise.

“They must have heard you were coming.”

Although I thought she was nuts, I smiled politely and said, “Well, at least it’s quiet now.”

So, yes, I’d like to “pre-screen” potential neighbors for noise – but that’s where the business side of a co-op board trumps the personal side. So, too, with purchases. It would have been easy for us to OK someone, anyone, just to be done with the whole situation. And, with a one percent flip tax, the corporation would make a nice profit. Yet the board members – bless them – were conscientious enough to feel they couldn’t approve the proposed sale and still be doing their fiduciary duty. Noise – or potential noise – never entered into it.

In the end, that’s what being on the board is all about; not doing the right thing for you, personally, but doing what’s best for the corporation as a whole. And if that means a few sleep-interrupted nights, so be it. That’s why they make ear plugs.

 

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