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Co-op and Condo Boards Under Pressure From All Sides

New York City

Under Pressure
Oct. 29, 2019

Habitat spoke recently with Beth Markowitz, president of Merlot Management.

You seem to be of the opinion that the pressures facing co-op and condo boards – from both inside and outside the buildings – are greater than ever. 

I really believe they are. I think that the ever-changing regulatory landscape of New York City – from the Department of Buildings, the Department of Health, Con Ed, just to name a few off the top of my head – all that is stressing boards and buildings in terms of their physical plans, their monthly maintenance, and their upkeep. 

Let's not forget the new Climate Mobilization Act, which is going to be huge, right?

It’s going to be huge, and for your average co-op or condo, probably astronomically costly. You know, many boards are still reeling from these new gas regulations. Con Ed is randomly going around the city with their sniffers and shutting gas service down – and then the board has to tell residents it's going to be months, or a year or more, without gas. And it's not simply doing work in the basement. You're talking about ripping up people's homes and common areas to run new gas lines, and people having to figure out how they're going to cook for months on end with no gas.

These are external pressures. How about internal pressures from the people in the building? 

Buildings now more than ever have such a diverse constituency. You have first-time homeowners, buyers with young families, residents who have been in the building for a while. And there's this ever-growing retirement community in New York City. Not only are retirees not leaving Manhattan and the boroughs, they're coming back in. They're selling their homes in the suburbs because living in the city, if you’re an older person, is much more convenient. But an older generation has different wants and needs than a younger generation. 

This leads to the internal pressures. A younger unit-owner or shareholder wants all the fancy bells and whistles. They would love it if their hands never had to touch a key and they could get in and out of the building, the common spaces, the elevator, or even their own apartments, with a fob or a swipe of their phone. An older resident might not be as tech-savvy.

We just saw a case in Hell's Kitchen, where an elderly couple sued because the building installed a security system that required a certain kind of smartphone.          

Right. So it becomes challenging because obviously, as a board, you want to represent your residents, you want to listen to their concerns, you want your building to be competitive, marketable, and desirable. But that may not all be achievable because people at different points in life also have different incomes. 

How can boards deal with these internal and external pressures?

You have to be sensitive to your constituents and what they can afford. You have to be aware of the changing regulatory landscape in the city. You have to exercise your best judgment, which is all a board can do. Understand that you can't please everybody all the time. But do your best, and be mindful of all your residents in the decisions you make.

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