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Witness for the Defense

Victor was pissed off. We have both been resident-shareholders in our Upper West Side co-op for the past 30 years, and I’ve learned he is a man of strong opinions. In this instance, he was angry at the Department of Sanitation (DSNY). On August 19, 2018, a sanitation officer identified on Summons No. 045073575Z as “S Hart” was charging our 21-unit building with putting garbage bags on the street on the wrong day, when no pickup was scheduled. The official charge was a violation of Section 16-120(c) of the New York City Administrative Code. This was nothing new for us. Like many co-ops and condos across the city, we’d had our share of violations from the fine-happy DSNY.

Victor Beube had some experience with garbage in this building, and so did I. I had served on the board with Victor, and then worked with him when he stepped down and acted as manager of our self-managed co-op. Later, as board president, I found myself in an awkward situation: how do you discipline your neighbor-manager when he’s not following the board’s instructions?

We ended up firing him. Eventually we got past the bad feelings – it helped when Victor took over management of the building next door, which he has successfully run for years. When he heard that we were going to pay the DSNY summons – it was $100 – he became angry … at the city bureaucracy. “They’re wrong, and we shouldn’t have to pay,” he said to me when I ran into him in the hallway one day. His anger gave me an idea. “All right,” I said. “How about you go down to the hearing and challenge it? You can be our emissary.”

I thought Victor was perfect for that role. In appearance, he is central casting’s idea of a distinguished co-op owner. He’s about 80 but still physically fit, with curly gray hair, wire-rim glasses, and a booming, self-assured voice. I knew that if Victor claimed the summons was wrong, nine out of ten judges would agree with him.

Victor went down to the hearing at 66 John Street and testified. Soon after that, we received a decision from the court.
“Mr. Beube… testified that on Friday, August 17, he observed two car-lengths worth of garbage in front of [his]... property, which the superintendent had placed out for collection the following morning,” wrote Christina Barber, the hearing officer. “At 5:45 A.M. [on Saturday, it was picked up]... On Sunday, August 19, [Mr. Beube] observed garbage in front of his building, but not the two car-lengths worth of garbage that he observed on the day prior… Mr. Beube further testified that the garbage cited in the summons came from another property… [He added that his co-op] is surrounded by six restaurants… and has been told by a neighbor that another property is placing their garbage in front of [Mr. Beube’s] property.”

Barber concluded with a comment that made me feel that my faith in Victor as the perfect witness for the defense was justified. “I credit Mr. Beube’s detailed and clear testimony,” Barber wrote, “and find that the respondent has mounted a valid defense.” As I read this, I wondered how many other co-ops in a similar situation would have dared to challenge the city government? Indeed, how many other buildings would be lucky enough to have a well-spoken witness like Victor? Without his testimony, the case probably would have gone the other way, and we would have been forced to pay a $100 fine we didn’t deserve. It’s depressing. But for the moment, I’ll savor the sweet smell of success. Or as Barber put it: “The bags did not emanate from respondent. Accordingly, this summons is dismissed.”

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