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Habitat Magazine Business of Management 2021

HABITAT

ARCHIVE ARTICLE

In-House Innovator

You couldn’t ask for a better neighbor than Arnaud Ruiz. A native of the wine-growing Bordeaux region in the southwest of France, Ruiz, 36, arrived in New York City in 2011 to work in information technology for a French bank. In March 2018, he and his husband, Joseph Tellone, bought an apartment at 404 W. 48th St., a 19-unit, five-story prewar co-op building in Hell’s Kitchen, where he promptly joined the board — and promptly started putting his tech skills to good use.

 

HABITAT: What inspired you to join the board so soon after moving in?

RUIZ: There happened to be an opening, and the board asked me if I was interested. I think it’s because when I arrived, I noticed the walls in the corridor were a bit dirty, so I just took a sponge and started scrubbing. They came to me and said, “No one has done anything like that, ever,” and asked if I wanted to help out with the board. I said yes.

 

HABITAT: Did you have any goals or projects in mind?

RUIZ: Yeah, I had a few. When I first started, of course, I had to catch up on the building’s history in terms of recent Department of Buildings work orders and any potential issues we were facing. There was a bit of a backlog of paperwork with our management company. So I created an app on my iPhone so I could not only track what’s going on based on the reports we get from our management company, but also get alerts if we’re being fined for some violation by the DOB. There’s a lot of data available on their database, and this was a way of making it available at my fingertips. Instead of having to wait for snail mail, I get alerted in the morning if the building is being fined or if a permit has been approved, things like that. Obviously, this kind of software exists for management companies, but right now there’s no such product for small co-ops. The app is called NYC CO-OP, and I’m thinking of releasing it on the Apple store for free so other buildings can benefit from it.

 

HABITAT: What was your next project?

RUIZ: I came up with a software system that allowed us to compare management companies. I created a database of companies, how many buildings they manage, how many violations and complaints were on file and, most importantly, how long they stay on file – in other words, which companies remain on top of things. We wanted to have a better understanding of our company, which is small but had recently taken on a lot of clients, and see whether it had too many, which might affect how well they serve their clients. As it turned out, we’re just fine the way we are.

 

HABITAT: Are you working on anything now?

RUIZ: Yes, the washer-dryers in the basement. Our building doesn’t have an elevator, and very often my husband or I will go all the way downstairs from the fifth floor only to find that all the machines are taken. We’d go up and come down again and find the same thing. I want to equip the machines with a smart device that can detect vibrations – like the magnetic kind you can buy for doors or windows to detect intruders – and link it to an app to tell you which machines are running. And if there are none available, you could set it to get a notification when one opens up. On top of that, I’d like to use the data to tell us the times that the machines typically aren’t being used, and maybe even add an anonymous messaging system where you can ask people to remove their clothes as soon as the machine stops.

 

HABITAT: Have you tackled any projects that aren’t tech-related?

RUIZ: I love to do historical research, so I looked into the history of our building. I put together an exhibit that starts from the time when it was only a pasture, when it was New Amsterdam, to when construction began in 1894, and then up to World War I. We have pictures of it from around 1920. It’s a permanent exhibit down in the basement. When people look at it, they’re just amazed.

 

HABITAT: Your fellow shareholders must love all the contributions you’re making to the co-op.

RUIZ: Everyone is pitching in. It’s not a building where we have a lot of people who come and go, so it’s mostly owners who are all very attached to it. The president of the board has been in the building for more than 40 years, so he obviously knows very well the ropes and how to get things done. We have one person who is taking care of our garden – I really don’t have a green thumb, so I thank her a lot for that – and another shareholder with an architectural background who helped with our basement renovation. Everyone has something to bring to the table, and they do.

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