Frank Lovece in Board Operations on November 8, 2013
In April 2009, the building's condominium association had apartment 5C, owned by Cheng and Grace Wu, cleaned to a livable condition after the board discovered what the court in Board of Managers of The Alfred Condominium v. Cheng Hsien Wu, et al. called "excessive accumulations of flammable materials, debris and also … rodent infestations."
Into the Breach
The cleaning restored the apartment to a sanitary state, and the board ordered the couple to pay for the cleaning and a necessary extermination, as well as related legal costs going back nearly a year. In August 2009, with those fees and unpaid common charges totaling $20,000, the board filed a lien and in December commenced a foreclosure action. On Jan. 21, 2011, a court held that the Wus were in breach of condo bylaws by allowing their apartment to deteriorate and remain in the unsanitary condition in which it was found. By the end of subsequent hearings, the couple now faced a $100,000 bill.
One might immediately think, "Wow, wouldn't it have been cheaper and easier for the apartment owners to have hired a cleaning service?" But as attorney Steven Wagner, a partner at Porzio, Bromberg & Newman, who is unrelated to this case, tells Habitat, "It's an OCD," the shorthand for the mental-health condition obsessive-compulsive disorder.
"It's an illness," he says. "I think it's important for people to understand that these are mental-health issues and that unfortunately in our society right now there has been an enormous pullback from providing mental-health services to people, so it falls more and more on either family or, if there's no family, it may fall onto the co-ops and condos and the courts to deal with it. I, for one, always try to be sensitive to that."
The Needs of the Many
The overall welfare of the entire community comes first, of course, and fire hazards and infestations posed dangers for everyone in the 36-story building. The board in this case ultimately demanded that the Wus sell their apartment, with the proceeds of the sale going toward their obligation to pay the lien.
On Oct. 17, Judge Donna M. Mills of New York State Supreme Court ruled that The Alfred is entitled to a judgment of foreclosure, though the exact amount of the lien was referred to a special referee.
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