New York's Cooperative and Condominium Community

Habitat Magazine Insider Guide



Test Time

In my Lower Manhattan co-op, making decisions is like sitting for final exams — every day. Each problem contains multiple factors and an assortment of potentially tricky solutions. Sometimes the action we take is the result of rethinking a past decision; at other times, we’re in uncharted territory. Here are a few examples of recent challenges we’ve faced.

1. Five years ago, when offered the option to delay a thorough Facade Inspection and Safety Program (FISP) examination of a newly discovered — and potentially damaged — chimney hidden beneath the building’s exterior, we could have picked one of two choices:

  1. Get the chimney inspected immediately, even if it resulted in a major expansion of the FISP work going on at the time as well as a major increase in the ongoing assessment to pay for it.
  1. Delay a detailed investigation of the chimney for five years, when, fingers crossed, the next FISP inspection would reveal the need only for minor work.

2. Last year’s facade inspection revealed eight faulty lintels that were responsible for eight leaking windows. We were advised that the rest of the lintels — all 220 of them — would likely fail in the near future. Our options: 

  1. Replace only the failing lintels, which would keep us within our FISP budget.
  1. Replace all the building’s lintels, which would require yet another punishing increase in our FISP assessment.

Extra credit: Without looking it up, what’s a lintel?

3. Our longtime super, who commutes from New Jersey, has mentioned the additional expense he will incur when congestion pricing takes effect, which could begin as early as May. What should the board do?

  1. Reimburse him for the daily congestion pricing fee.
  1. Support the environmental goals of congestion pricing and offer only to cover the cost for him switching from driving to mass transit.
  1. Pay nothing for the super’s increased transportation costs and risk him turning in his notice.


1. The chimney discovered by FISP inspectors in 2018 was built as a concession to the shorter building next door. Because its existing flue would be blocked by our building, an agreement was reached to construct a chimney on our property exclusively for the neighboring building’s use, but the responsibility for maintenance would be exclusively ours. Forever.

When the board was advised that a thorough chimney inspection could be delayed until the next round of FISP work in 2023, waiting five years was an attractive option. But in my building, whenever we push a repair down the road to avoid spending money in the present, the problem gets worse, costs go up and unexpected headaches intervene — in this case, a serious, costly gas leak and a major elevator snafu.   

Still, we chose b) and tabled the chimney fix until last year. Sure enough, the inspection revealed that the chimney is unsound and unsalvageable, and though no longer used by our neighbor, it must be replaced to prevent the exterior wall supporting it from crumbling to the ground. Adding to the financial pain, the project cost at least 20% more than it would have five years ago.   

2. Until last year, I’d never heard the word “lintels.” Our lintels have not been an issue since the former warehouse was converted to our residential co-op 45 years ago. Learning that they suddenly were found to be failing or in imminent danger of failing had shareholders shaking their heads. The board called in our architect, who agreed with the contractor’s findings. Chiseling out the bricks above not just eight but all 220 windows, then installing new waterproofing and laying new bricks on top would be an enormous job. But as we keep learning, and relearning, buying time doesn’t save us money. Our experience with delaying the chimney work until now made the answer clear. This time we chose b) and are currently replacing all the lintels as part of our FISP work, even though paying for it requires extending our FISP assessment three more months.

 Extra credit: I don’t know anyone in my co-op who already knew what a lintel was, though to our partial credit, everyone was correct in assuming that replacing all 220 of whatever they were was going to cost us a bundle.


3. Our super’s daily commute consists of a 40-minute drive and a $12.75 toll. Congestion pricing would add $15 per day to his travel expenses, while switching to the train and bus would more than triple his travel time and more than double his commuting expenses. Given his pre-dawn arrival time and frequent need to stay late, he plans to continue commuting by car but is concerned about the cost increase.

While shareholders’ opinions differ on the issue of congestion pricing, everyone — including those who support its goal to create “cleaner air, less traffic, safer streets and better mass transit” — agrees that we don’t want to lose our super. Besides, as we try to increase our energy efficiency by converting from a gas boiler to heat pumps, and maybe installing solar panels and a green roof, we need our super, whose experience and knowledge of the quirks of our old building are invaluable.   

The board has yet to discuss the matter, but I would opt for a) and pay the super’s congestion pricing fee.


Understandably, a handful of shareholders object to spending more money and using assessments to build up our reserves. But most of us realize that many co-op issues are trick questions, which require our board to consider both shareholder expenses and the maintenance of our building. And that deserves an “E” for extraordinary effort. Getting an “A” would be possible only if someone found a treasure chest buried in our basement, next to a crystal ball.

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