New York's Cooperative and Condominium Community
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Paul Berdann uses his IT experience to expedite a roof repair project at his Manhattan co-op.
With 25 years of meetings, projects, and personalities behind him, Paul Berdann hasn’t grown tired of board service. Even if he had, the 13-year veteran president of the board at 426 West Broadway House, would feel it was his obligation to serve especially when the roof leaked and needed to be replaced.
Board president Paul Berdann
426 West Broadway House
With 25 years of meetings, projects, and personalities behind him, Paul Berdann hasn’t grown tired of board service. Even if he had, the 13-year veteran president of the board at 426 West Broadway House, would feel it was his obligation to serve. Built in 1900 as a factory, the six-story, 38-unit structure, which runs the length of an entire block from West Broadway to Thompson Street, was gut-renovated and transformed into large condos in the eighties.
“I was the first person to move into the building when it was occupiable [sic],” he says. “And, you know, I saw the problems that were there, and my line of work is such that I do analysis and find solutions. So, it wasn’t that far afield.”
Berdann works in information technology (commonly referred to as IT) where he regularly “defines processes and [finds] the correct way to obtain a satisfactory solution. So, you know, figuring out how things work in the building is simply a physical version of doing IT work. They’re both process-related.”
Certainly, the “process” approach helped in a recent project at 426 West Broadway House, where Berdann and his board were guided by veteran Ellen Kornfeld, a vice president at the Lovett Group, who has been the property’s manager since 1989.
Problems and Process
The problem, in brief, was that the roof leaked and it needed to be replaced. Among the issues:
Money to do repairs. Since 426 is a condominium, it doesn’t have the same access to money as a cooperative does. Unable to refinance a (non-existent) underlying mortgage, the board went to its unit-owners, and, as required by the bylaws, got a sixty-six and two-thirds majority for taking out a half-a-million-dollar line of credit, to be paid back through a four-year assessment on the unit-owners.
The original warranty. When the condo had its last roof installation about a decade before, it was only able to obtain a limited contractor’s warranty because the board – which didn’t have the money to do a full replacement at once – had the new roof installed in two parts. “When you do it that way you cannot get a warranty from the manufacturer,” says Kornfeld.
The weather. The contractor, Pratt Construction, had to put off work when delays caused the job to go into the winter months. “We got caught in the middle of the winter,” Kornfeld says. “And they had to stop.”
Roof decks. Many of the top-floor unit-owners wanted to put their decks back on the roof. This was delayed when the engineer who had drawn up the specifications for the work balked, arguing that the decks would damage the roof. After many heated discussions, the board fired him and sought out second and third opinions, which ultimately backed the idea that the decks, if properly installed, were okay.
The membrane. Kornfeld was worried that top-floor unit-owners, who were frustrated by lack of access, might go up anyway and damage the new roof. “We can’t police it all the time,” she says.
The manufacturer’s warranty. Kornfeld had multiple battles with Kemper, the manufacturer of the roof, over its promised warranty. Initially, it granted the warranty, and then, after the roof was finished, it tried to claim the co-op had voided it.
But Kornfeld would have none of it. “This is what you’ve got to be careful about because it can quickly turn into a nightmare. What they tried to do is say they [had] never approved the manner in which the railings were attached to the parapet wall, but they had signed off on it. I had to challenge them: I had to spend money for the engineer to go looking into his records [of his dealings with Kemper]; I had to go back to the contractor who had communication with them. But I expected that. It’s the first thing the manufacturers will always say to you [in situations like this]: ‘Oh, your warranty is voided.’ Then they hope that you’ll disappear into the night.”
After her investigations showed they had been previously approved, Kornfeld received a phone call reversing the decision to void the warranty. The manager asked for the statement in writing, however. As Kornfeld notes: “If I hadn’t pushed for that, when we put our first claim in, they would have voided it. I know the way they think.”
Berdann, for his part, appreciates such aggressive work by Kornfeld. “The managing agent handles the building on a day to day basis. My job is really advisory and to bring whatever expertise I have, from the work that I do – that’s really how I see it,” Berdann notes. “I keep the board informed – and try to get decisions made in a timely manner and try to make the right decisions and also provide value to the owners. That’s really the function of the board: to keep the value of the building up.”
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