304 West 75th Street
Upper West Side, Manhattan
Shelly Kupper is an agent for change in his building, 304 West 75th Street. The 74-year-old dentist speaks emphatically and proudly about the cooperative, which he says has substantially changed since he first moved in 24 years ago. Although he doesn’t say so directly, a lot of that change has come about through his dogged leadership and clear vision of how he thinks the co-op should run. He has been in a good position to make his dreams come true: as president of the seven-member board since 1994, Kupper rules benignly but firmly. The projects include redoing the lobby, converting the elevator from manned to automatic, and adding a gym, storage lockers, and a bike room.
How did you go about changing things? Did you have any experience in real estate or business?
Although I’m a dentist, I’ve always been more involved in the business end of health care than not. I am also a real estate investor, and I have owned a couple of buildings and four or five other co-op apartments.
Why did you want to be on the board?
I thought that I could handle and organize things much better [than they had been handled] and knew what changes I would like to address. One big step was changing the way the mail was delivered. In the past, the doormen would take mail and deliver it to all the apartments. However, the whole process was taking up too much time, so I [had a new] mailbox [installed] and people would collect their mail themselves rather than have it delivered.
Lobby, elevator conversion, a gym, storage lockers, and a bike room: how did you get all your many projects done?
It took a few years. When I first came on, many of the board members were original shareholders who had been renters, and they were resistant to change. They just wanted to keep the status quo. But I thought we had to keep up with the market. We needed to make changes to increase the value of the apartments. There was wasted space down in the basement; that’s one of the reasons for building the gym and storage spaces.
A large number of your apartments are still owned by the sponsor and, as a result, you have a large number of rent-controlled and rent-stabilized units. Is that a problem?
Not really. Thirty percent of our apartments are still owned by a sponsor. We have worked real hard to make that a very harmonious living arrangement. We have no problems with the sponsor or with the tenants that are not shareholders. In a lot of buildings, there is a sharp division between shareholders and sponsor-owned apartments. In our building, we have worked hard so that if there is an issue, we work together.
Working with the sponsor is in your building’s best interest, isn’t it?
In a lot of buildings, if you wanted to have changes – for example, if I wanted to spend money on putting in a gym – there is nothing in it for the sponsor, so he would resist. But [this sponsor] is always very, very cooperative with us. That’s because I worked real hard with him, and I still do, to have a harmonious relationship. We talked to him about his apartments; he will maybe sell them off as they become available, but he will always sell off the apartments if the people buying will agree to combine apartments. So if there are two adjacent apartments available and someone wants to buy them, he will agree to sell combined apartments, where he may not agree to an individual apartment.
What did you find to be the most surprising thing about being on the board?
The lack of knowledge about real estate that most people have when they join the board. They are very unsophisticated, and we have to wean out the people that want to run for the board because that’s their one opportunity in life to exert some power. I will talk to the sponsor who still controls 30 percent of the vote, and he will talk for them and we will get a board that all works well together.
What is an important lesson you have learned from serving on the board?
Don’t answer questions that shareholders may have [when they meet you in the hallways]; just invite them to come to a board meeting. So if someone stops me and says, “Oh, Dr. Kupper, can I talk to you about such and such a thing?” I’ll say, “No, send me an e-mail or come to the board meeting and we can discuss it.” There are certainly friends of mine in the building whom I will chat with, but it’s a dangerous thing to take people’s questions: it’s too easy for everyone to have suggestions and complaint. But it’s amazing how they go away if they have to put an effort in by e-mailing it, writing a note to me, or coming to a meeting.