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Habitat Magazine Insider Guide



The Integrity of Ownership

I live in an unusual condominium. Consisting of two gut-renovated buildings in central Harlem, the 50-unit property is in the city Department of Housing, Preservation, and Development (HPD) portfolio of affordable housing. It is designed for median-income residents. And, although we’re a condo, HPD rules require the units to be owner- occupied.

That creates an interesting situation: we’re a condo – which generally does not have residency requirements – but we have a rule that is usually found in co-ops. The problem? We don’t have the enforcement powers of a co-op.

I didn’t expect this kind of problem when I moved into the building in August of 2004. I was able to purchase the apartment through a lottery system, and joined a group of first-time homeowners who all moved in mid- to late 2004. I got on the board the second year I was there. Many of us saw that some of the units were bought as investments – in our years there, we never met the owners, only the renters. As new renters moved in, we realized we had no control over the situation. I often thought, “We’re not a Columbia University dorm,” although it was beginning to seem like one, with transient tenants coming and going regularly. “What can we do?” said the other board members.

The problem was that stipulations and an agreement for a tax abatement and other subsidies we were receiving said that the condo had to be owner-occupied. Residents had to submit annual certified statements to HPD, swearing that they were owners.

We decided to try and change this situation. We consulted with lawyers. They always said, “Well, if you were a co-op, you could do something.” Not taking no for an answer, the board has been working to develop a policy for renting. It would possibly limit rentals to between 10 and 15 percent of the property at any one time, and it would require the owner to live in the property for two or three years before he or she could rent it out. There would also be a fee.

We haven’t been able to get approval of the plan (yet), but we did manage to impose (with HPD’s blessing) a $1,000 monthly fee on any owner who rented. With common charges ranging from $300 to $800, that’s a fairly significant amount.

Since implementing the policy, we have had about four apartments go on the market. That’s a positive sign. But we aren’t going to stop there. We see this as an interim step. We hope to do a lot more. Our goal is to do something so that the building is managed and maintained properly, and has the integrity of ownership. And to do that, we’ve got to get control over who lives here. It’s that simple.

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