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Can Boards Punish Many for the Crimes of a Few?

Jackson Heights, Queens

Group Fines
May 1, 2018

A co-op board in Jackson Heights, Queens has come up with a novel solution to a vexing problem. When an unidentified shareholder kept leaving a mess in the compactor room, the board imposed a $500 fine on anyone caught leaving garbage on the floor. When the fine failed to deter the behavior, the board announced that after each infraction, every shareholder on the floor would be fined $50. Is this brilliant; or is it stupid and illegal? 

Probably stupid and illegal, says the Ask Real Estate column in the New York Times. Generally, a co-op board can impose only fines that are authorized by the proprietary lease. It is very unlikely that the Jackson Heights co-op’s proprietary lease authorizes a group fine, according to attorney Peter Massa, a partner at Gallet Dreyer & Berkey. Disgrunted shareholders should review the lease to confirm this.

Or they could pay the $50 fine and sue the co-op board in Small Claims Court. Or they could refuse to pay it and, if the co-op board sues them for eviction for nonpayment of rent, they could argue their case in court, Massa says. Remember: courts are unlikely to uphold fines they regard as unreasonable or confiscatory

But why make lawyers richer? Instead of going to court over $50, shareholders might consider writing a letter to the co-op board and the managing agent, insisting that they address this issue fairly and appropriately. They should ask other disgruntled neighbors to sign the letter, too. 

Rather than trying to impose stupid fines on innocent people, the managing agent might consider sending a letter to shareholders reminding everyone of proper trash procedure, pointing out that leaving a mess in the compactor room is unsanitary and could attract vermin. For good measure, the manager might consider posting those clever signs from yesteryear in all compactor rooms: Littering if filthy and selfish so don’t do it.

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