Belkin Burden Wenig & Goldman, Partner
The client’s tale. A shareholder in a luxury Manhattan co-op applied to the board for consent to various relatively minor alterations, mostly having to do with small HVAC equipment that he wanted to install on his terrace to cool his apartment because of his heart condition. The board consulted me, and I advised the board that, if it rejected the application, this shareholder would probably sue and that any such litigation would likely be decided against the co-op, especially in light of the “disability” aspects of the matter, and the fact that other shareholders had previously installed similarly small HVAC equipment on outdoor areas of the building. The board rejected the application, the shareholder sued, and the court ruled in his favor, hammering the board members in unusually strong language. The shareholder got the right to alter his apartment, the co-op is now on the hook to reimburse him for his legal fees, and most of the board members were voted out at the next election.
The lawyer’s take. Board members cannot let emotions or vindictiveness get in the way of sound judgment. Board members cannot run their buildings like private fiefdoms. Contrary to what some members think, the law does not stop at their building’s front door, and they are subject to the law like everyone else. Boards should listen to the advice of their experienced professionals.
Case closed. Boards must be extremely careful to apply standards uniformly and fairly, even if they don’t want to. This is especially so with anything touching upon disability issues.