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Does Resident Apathy Affect Your Building? Does Anyone Care?

Tom Soter in Board Operations on April 22, 2014

New York City

April 22, 2014

It was a joke — but it gets to the center of a situation that challenges many boards in both co-ops and condos: how do you get the residents of your building excited about (or at least involved in) its activities? "It's a Catch-22," says Alvin Wasserman, director of asset management at Fairfield Properties. "If you're doing a good job as a board in running the building, and there are few maintenance increases, then people don't take an interest."

Adds David Goodman, a management executive at Tudor Realty: "This is the 10th time we've tried to get a quorum [at a Manhattan co-op]. No one is interested. It is said that this is a sign that everything is going smoothly and everyone is happy. In some of these places, they even have open board meetings. And no one turns up. It's inexplicable."

Condo Concerns

The difficulty is compounded in condominiums, which often contain a large number of non-owner residents who never come to meetings. "That's a problem," says David Berkey, a partner in Gallet, Dreyer & Berkey. "It also affects the ability to recruit new members, and you have the board going on and on. Resident-owners are more concerned about quality-of-life issues than outsiders."

The consequences can be grave. "Shareholders have to pay attention," says attorney Abbey Goldstein, a partner at Goldstein & Greenlaw. "It can be a serious problem where you have a board that is either dishonest or neglectful. When you have a dishonest board, you can have them do a lot of damage even if the shareholders are active. It's worse if they don't take an interest. Nobody is acting as a gadfly, raising issues regarding spending and contractors. Where shareholders are not active, it creates an atmosphere that is conducive to this sort of thing."

Wasserman adds that a condo or co-op board that just focuses on keeping maintenance low and "not funding a reserve, not taking care of capital projects, at the same time, then apathy can backfire, and it all catches up with you."

So how does a board overcome indifference? A few solutions turned up in a recent Legal Talk Podcast, "Shareholder Ennui," conducted by Carol J. Ott, publisher of Habitat. The following is an edited transcript. The participants were Arthur Weinstein, an attorney in private practice, and Bruce Cholst, a partner at the law firm of Rosen, Livingston & Cholst. They discussed issues raised by Tom Bettridge, board president of a 47-unit Brooklyn co-op.


Legal Talk Podcast 


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