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How do boards deal with estates that are “cash poor”?
AUTHORStewart E. Wurtzel, Partner, Tane Waterman & Wurtzel
PAGE #p. 52
Boards are often left holding the bag when a resident dies; what are their options?
We have two different problems that we faced recently. In one, an elderly woman was cared for by a health care aide, who stayed at the apartment. The woman died – but the aide refused to leave. The woman’s two daughters have turned to the board to force out the illegal tenant so they can sell the apartment. In the other scenario, an elderly woman died in Westchester County. The closest family we found were distant cousins and none of them wanted to get involved. Outside of the city, the co-op did not have standing to request a death certificate, but the public administrator wouldn’t get involved without proof of death. The co-op was stuck without anyone to pay the maintenance. The situation was going to continue because there was nowhere to go, other than through the courts.
The important part in situations like this is establishing a line of communication with the executor, the administrator, or the attorney, so that you know what’s going on. Many estates say, “We’re cash poor. Everything’s tied up in hard assets and we would like to pay you when we close.” That may be fine, if closing looks like it’s going to be soon (a few months). If the estate feels that it can hold on to the apartment for a year-and-a-half without paying maintenance, however, so that it can get the maximum return, you need to push the estate and say, “We are not waiting that long.”
We’re about to begin proceedings against the health care aide to remove her from the apartment. She has no right to be there. In the other situation, there was nobody involved, so we had to be aggressive. Because it was a Mitchell-Lama apartment whose equity had been exhausted and there was no one entitled to succession, the cooperative chose to use non-judicial methods of recovering the apartment and protecting the few items that the shareholder left behind.
Co-ops and condos are having many problems with estates. For the most part, the estate is looking to maximize its sales price and get out. They’re not interested in day-to-day maintenance or in interaction with neighbors.Know your neighbors. Emergency contact information is so important if you’re dealing with an elderly tenant. Boards’ abilities are somewhat limited, but it’s important to keep open lines of communication. When estate representatives have been appointed, every estate has different concerns and dynamics, the scenarios are different, and there are no hard-and-fast rules. You should certainly be talking to the estate representative early and often. The most important thing to remember is that, as a board, you have a fiduciary duty to the best interests of the other shareholders or unit-owners.