Bill Morris in Board Operations on January 21, 2021
As the senior vice president at Harlem Property Management, Jim Simari oversees a portfolio of some 45 co-op, condo and rental buildings, including HDFC co-ops that own income-generating rental apartments. When the state Legislature passed the sweeping Housing Stability and Tenant Protection Act of 2019, Simari realized that the business of managing those rental apartments had changed overnight.
“The new law means you really have to be on top of your game,” says Simari, who has been in the management business for almost 30 years. “Your accounting department is affected, your managers are affected. You have to have a system in place that ensures you move quickly on all sorts of things.” Among these he lists notifications of lease non-renewals and rent increases, apartment inspections after lease terminations, and the return of security deposits. Under the new law, a landlord’s failure to act within set time frames on these and other obligations results in financial penalties.
“Before the law passed,” Simari says, “you looked at your rent roll maybe once a month. When someone moved out, the request to refund the security deposit might sit in the accounting department for a couple of weeks until the next round of checks were cut.” The law has put an end to such laissez-faire practices.
While Simari saw only challenges in the Tenant Protection Act’s strict requirements, Hal Coopersmith, a partner at the law firm Coopersmith & Coopersmith, saw opportunity. “Our landlord clients didn’t have any hope of complying with the law,” Coopersmith says. “I wanted to develop a calendaring system for them. I talked to tech people, who gave me a concept, and then I got in touch with a software developer.”
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The result is a proprietary system called RezCue that sends a series of customized, staggered emails and text messages to clients, alerting them to looming deadlines for notifying renters of plans to terminate a lease or raise the rent, as well as deadlines for apartment walkthroughs with a departing tenant and the refund of the security deposit. The cost of the program is $50 per lease, with a reduced price for a bulk sign-up.
When Coopersmith pitched RezCue to Harlem Property Management, the initial reception was cool. “At first I thought it was something I didn’t need,” Simari says, “but Hal Coopersmith was very persistent. After he explained it a couple of times, it clicked that we manage seven or eight HDFC co-ops that own rental apartments. It’s a little bit tricky tracking expiration dates, giving notices. Sometimes even the boards lose track of the leases. So I decided to give RezCue a try.”
Simari had his managers make lists of all their rental apartments in co-ops and condos, then sent a spreadsheet to Coopersmith, who uploaded the data. Soon, notifications of looming deadlines were arriving via email and text at Harlem Property Management. Deadlines were met, and fines were avoided.
“It’s been a great complement to what we already have,” Simari says. “This is an automatic process that doesn’t require maintenance or monitoring or updating. Best of all, we don’t have to hire another body.”
For co-op boards, it’s one less thing to worry about. “Our building used to be self-managed,” says Lois Baynham, board president at an 82-unit Harlem HDFC co-op. “Some of the renters have been here since the 1970s, and they didn’t even have leases. When we hired Harlem Property Management in 2018, they very quickly made sure all renters have leases, and now they’re using RezCue to keep up with all leases and renewals. The board doesn’t need to worry because management is on top of it. It’s been wonderful. We’ve got enough problems to deal with.”
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