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The Crap That Co-op Board Members Have to Deal With. No, Literally.

Frank Lovece in Board Operations on August 24, 2012

161 W. 86th Street, Upper West Side, Manhattan

Aug. 24, 2012

Built in the early 20th century, with what one real-estate website calls a look "straight out of Central Casting for an Upper West Side prewar building," the 12-story, 33-unit co-op at 161 W. 86th Street has amenities like a planted roof deck. It's photogenic enough that for the past four years it's had a written policy for film/TV productions on the premises.

And when the plumbing failed on April 16, 2011, Karen Gorman and her husband were living in their own bad movie. Call it "The Excreting": The soil stack or waste stack— the vertical pipes and fittings that carry waste disposal within building walls — leaked or otherwise broke. This, as a court decision in Gorman's lawsuit put it, "caused human excrement to flow into [the] apartment. Human excrement was found on the floor, carpets and furniture…." Bleeuchh!

The co-op board and the managing agent promptly did the right things. Susan Sullivan, president of 151-161 Owners Corp., wrote Gorman an e-mail stating that "since the waste stack was within the walls it is a corporation responsibility," and manger Ken Ryan of Gerard J. Picaso Inc. said the board would cut Gorman a check for certain expenses. But Gorman, the board told the judge, rejected the offer.

But Are Any of Us Ever Really Happy?

Specifically, Ryan had written, "Will you settle this matter and be happy if the Board is willing to pay your contractor $7,000, the cleaning service $6,925, and for the floor $6,454," for a total of $20,379. Gorman's repair invoices, however, came to $23,363.59. That's a difference of all of $2,984.59. The co-op board did have an issue with contractor Interior Done Wright, of Brooklyn, which presented two different invoices for the same work — $7,570 and $9,050. But that difference of $1,480 would seem easily resolvable. That leaves a grand total of $1,504.59 on the table.

$1,500. Oh, the horror….

And like a movie in which the director throws in a final scare at the end, there was a second issue in the lawsuit: reimbursement for Gorman and her husband having to live in a hotel for one night, with friends and family, and in their second home in East Hampton, Long Island, until May 14, 2011. Figuring commuting and related costs at $1,127.08 and monthly-maintenance abatement of $1,152.09 for the 27 days they couldn't use the apartment, that totals another $2,279.17

In other words: Gorman asked for less than $2,300 reimbursement for alternate living accommodations for the month in which the building's admitted fault drove the couple from their home. And how exactly does that amount sound unreasonable?

Judge Eileen A. Rakower, in granting summary judgment on the liability charges, didn't comment on the wisdom of either party going to court and spending legal fees over a difference of under $5,000, or suggest this could have been handled in Small Claims Court. But it does makes you wonder, given the ridiculously small stakes and no argument over liability, whether anyone was getting legal advice worth a crap.


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