Bill Morris in Featured Articles
For that reason, the seven-member board at Museum Tower — a 52-story, 238-unit condo building built in 1983 atop Manhattan’s Museum of Modern Art — recently undertook the tricky process of rescinding a ban on washers and dryers that had existed for decades.
The apartments had been designed to accommodate a washer and dryer, and in the building’s early years about three dozen unit-owners installed them. It didn’t take long for the trouble to start.
Drain lines ran to the eighth floor, where water discharged from washing machines was transferred to a line connected to city sewers. The transfer point was unable to handle the great volumes of soapy water, which then backed up vent lines. Dirty, soapy water bubbled into toilets, sinks and tubs on the building’s lower floors.
They Don't Love that Dirty Water
To remedy the problem, the board passed House Rule 37 in 1994. It forbade unit-owners from installing new washers and dryers; it allowed owners of existing machines to repair but not replace them; and it required that the machines be removed when an apartment was sold.
Peace returned. Time passed. Things changed.
“Our board has always been very conscious about trying to add value,” says Ted Voss, a marketing consultant who moved into the building when it opened and has served on the board for 15 years, the past six as president. “About five or six years ago, I asked a couple of brokers who have long experience with the building to list what prospective buyers considered to be our pros and cons. . . . [T]he first thing on the short list of negatives was the lack of washers and dryers in the apartments.”
That seemingly trivial item put the building at a distinct disadvantage against many of the new condo buildings that have built-in washers and dryers. Even some older co-ops have been joining the trend, amending rules to allow the appliances provided certain criteria are met. At this point, according to the website StreetEasy.com, apartments with washers and dryers make up about 20 percent of the current sales and rental listings in Manhattan.
“About two or three years ago,” Voss says, “we had a discussion with our manager and told him to get us technical information and make an analysis.”
“They asked me to go through and see how many machines are left in the building,” says John Spellmon, who has been building manager of the property for the past 15 years. “They asked me and our engineer, Lane Engineering, to check the pipes and drains and see if there was a way to bring [the machines] back. As soon as the low-water-usage washing machines hit the market, I thought that was the answer for us.”
The new generation of washing machines by such manufacturers as Bosch and LG use as little as 10 gallons of water for an entire wash and rinse cycle — as opposed to about 40 gallons used by machines in the 1980s. Other technological advances include low-suds detergents that are less likely to clog drain pipes, and “condensing” dryers that don’t require an exhaust vent, a major consideration in many city buildings.
“We got seven or eight residents who agreed to put them in temporarily, so we could make sure it would work,” Spellmon says. “We didn’t have any problems.”
At the board’s direction, Spellmon, with the help of the building’s lawyer and engineer, then drew up the following guidelines that residents would have to follow when installing washers and dryers:
“If problems arise, residents must remove the appliances at their own expense; washers have to sit in an overflow pan, and the pan has to be equipped with a leak detector that shuts off the water supply if the pan overflows; water lines have to be braided stainless steel instead of conventional rubber; only ‘condensing’ dryers are allowed; and washers have to be an approved, low water-usage brand.”
“We started out with two or three acceptable manufacturers,” Spellmon says. “Now, there are so many low-water machines on the market that unit-owners submit their proposed machine to the engineer, and he almost always approves it.”
Boards locked into long-term contracts with a laundry-room company might run into problems if allowing washers and dryers in apartments siphons too much money from the laundry contractor, who frequently has a guaranteed minimum income written into the contract. In the case of Museum Tower, however, its eighth-floor laundry room —10 washers and 10 dryers — was self-managed.
Since the rule change, about two dozen residents have installed washers and dryers, according to Spellmon. “They love it,” he says. “Every tenant who has bought an apartment has put in a laundry room. Prospective purchasers say it’s a huge amenity.”
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