New York's Cooperative and Condominium Community

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Looking Up

Ray Ochs

Board president, the Forest Hills, Forest Hills, Queens

Serving on a board is challenging. Those challenges run the gamut, from ephemeral issues (like creating harmony out of disharmony among board members) to more nuts-and-bolts kinds of stuff (like fixing a garage leak). I should know. I have spent several years coping with a multitude of problems as the president of my co-op board.

To step back: I have lived in Forest Hills – both the neighborhood and the building – for many years. My 120-unit Queens cooperative, with its mixture of retired (about a third), middle-aged (a third), and younger (a third) residents, is a great place to live. Converted in the 1980s, the property has had its ups and downs in terms of how it has been run.

I was first elected to the board in 2005 and served four years, after which I stepped down to pay more attention to my actual (paid) job. For another few years, the board seemed to progress satisfactorily; but then in 2013, a controversial assessment – the board started assessing the shareholders before getting quotes for the job, which meant that there was a mismatch between what we collected and the actual cost – followed by a contentious mid-year meeting led me to run for the board again. I now find myself, after a four-year hiatus, back in the role of president.

On my return, I was confronted with a number of problems that called for board action. I drew various lessons from them:

Garage. Our building has an outdoor garage and an indoor one beneath it. It has long needed a full repair, which is expensive business. So, it had always seemed prudent to undertake patchwork repairs. We have now completed interviews for the reconstruction and selected a company. Soon, the garage will leak no more. Lesson: Don’t put off a major (and necessary) capital project.

Mortgage refi. Our mortgage is finally near the point of renegotiation. We are fortunate to have a colleague on the board who works in the financial world. He has personally contacted several mortgage brokers, and it is likely that he will negotiate a good deal for the new mortgage. Lesson: Make proper use of those with special skills.

Board splinter group. There had been a schism within the board in the past year. Some members started an “inner circle” that fought with many members. Lesson: See if the board can make compromises with such a group. Better yet, prevent it from forming altogether by having a clear set of goals.

Cogen. A few projects that seemed costly have been indefinitely tabled. We looked into cogeneration but got nowhere. One of the board members who has technical expertise coordinated some of the issues, but it was necessary to speak with each of the companies and do a lot more. We continue to reach out to other co-ops who have cogen units. But, for the moment, the investment would simply cost too much. With any luck, this will change in the future. Lesson: Unless your building is very large and can commit major resources to the project, keep the boilers.

Contacts. Seek help from everyone, on the board and elsewhere. Make proper use of the management, but also of other co-ops. Even the basic processes involved in being a board president – such as setting agendas or having short meetings – I learned only at conferences in my first years. Final lesson: Have everyone pitch in – delegate!

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