Q: We're shareholders living on the top floor of a co-op in Yorkville. Once or twice a year, the ceiling leaks during rainstorms. We always notify the super and the management company, and the super “finds” a problem and “fixes” it. But the leaks keep happening. What can shareholders do to pressure a co-op board to get a more thorough evaluation and make a permanent fix?
A: Ceiling leaks can lead to much bigger problems if they aren’t fixed, so they must be addressed properly and promptly for the good of your unit and your building, replies the Ask Real Estate column in The New York Times. As a first step, you need an evaluation by a professional who’s experienced in finding leaks, typically an engineer.
Reaching out to your managing agent was a good first step. Document the dates of contact, and the response you did or didn’t receive. Managing agents often have many buildings in their portfolio, and shareholders’ concerns aren’t always addressed promptly. If your engineer's findings don't produce results, here are three more steps to take to force the board into action:
1. Hire a lawyer. Then have the lawyer draft a letter to the co-op’s board of directors and managing agent. Tell them you are aware of the leak, make clear that it is a recurring problem, describe the damage it is causing, and note that your repeated efforts to address the issue have failed to result in a professional evaluation. “In many instances, a lawyer’s letter will get the attention of the building,” says Lawrence Chaifetz, a real estate lawyer with Chaifetz & Chaifetz.
The co-op board has a fiduciary responsibility to take care of the building, which is why the board must respond. “I think the most important thing is to impress upon the board their responsibility in addressing it,” says Lorraine Nadel, a lawyer with the firm Nadel & Ciarlo, who handles real estate disputes and litigation.
2. Call 311. If the board doesn’t respond to your lawyer’s letter, you can call 311 to report the leaks. If a city inspector visits, it could result in a building violation — or, if the inspector finds other problems, unrelated violations. Just be aware that this could damage your relationship with the board. It could also result in a building-wide maintenance increase if the property has numerous unaddressed violations that require major repairs.
3. File a lawsuit. Litigation is the nuclear option — after all, you're suing the corporation in which you own shares — and it should be seen as the last resort. Despite the severity of this step, lawsuits are not uncommon, Nadel says, if the board is dysfunctional or if there is no money available for repairs.
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