New York's Cooperative and Condominium Community
Bill Morris in Board Operations on May 25, 2023
A new poll suggests there is overwhelming public support for a bill now before the New York City Council that would require co-op boards to disclose their reasons for rejecting applications from apartment buyers. The bill, Intro. 915, introduced in February, is the latest in a long string of efforts to bring added transparency to the workings of co-op boards. It is vigorously opposed by co-op board advocates.
The poll, conducted in early May by the political consulting firm Slingshot Strategies, surveyed 1,500 registered voters in New York City — not necessarily co-op shareholders or board members — and found that 68% were in favor of such a bill and 15% were opposed. The support was high among all age groups, races, genders, political parties, boroughs and income levels. The highest levels of support by borough were in Manhattan (73%) and over $150,000 in income level (81%). The poll had a 2.5% margin of error.
“The support is pretty overwhelming” says Evan Roth Smith, a founding partner at Slingshot Strategies. “When we see this level of support among high earners in Manhattan, it suggests that the respondents were familiar with co-ops. It’s clear from this data that most people feel the board application process could be made better. I’ve been through the application process, and this wouldn’t be the first time shareholders and board members differed.”
The poll posed the following question: “Under current law, a co-op board is allowed to reject the buyer that the current apartment owner wants to sell to, and doesn't have to tell the rejected buyer why. Would you support changing the law so that co-op boards would still be able to reject a buyer for the same wide range of reasons as now, but would have to provide a written statement of reasons to the rejected buyer?”
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The question addresses one of the claims by opponents of the current bill and its previous incarnations: that such legislation would restrict the reasons for which co-op boards could reject purchase applications. In fact, Intro. 915 states: “No provision of this chapter shall be construed or interpreted to restrict or expand the reasons for which a cooperative corporation may lawfully withhold consent.”
(Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, a sponsor of Intro. 915, hired Slingshot Strategies as the primary data and polling vendor for his 2019 campaign.)
Intro. 915, which is currently stalled in the city council’s Committee on Housing and Buildings, requires a co-op board to give all reasons “with specificity” why it rejected a purchase application. “The statement must convey sufficient information to enable a prospective purchaser to take specific steps to remedy any specific deficiencies in that application,” the bill states. Boards will have to produce the written statement within five business days of the rejection. A co-op board’s failure to comply in a timely fashion can result in statutory damages against the corporation, ranging from $1,000 to $25,000.
When the bill was introduced in February, Marc Luxemberg, president of the Council of New York Cooperatives & Condominiums, called it an “outrageous intrusion into the functioning of boards” that's designed to “discourage co-op boards from turning people down.”
Geoffrey Mazel, counsel for the Presidents Co-op and Condo Council, added that the proposed fines are “punitive and outrageous.”
Craig Gurian, a lawyer who has pushed to expand the city’s Human Rights Law, disagrees. “One doesn’t need to live in a co-op to know about the discrimination and arbitrariness that characterize some co-op boards,” says Gurian, who has served on co-op boards and is currently a co-op shareholder. “Board members are outliers in terms of wanting to preserve secrecy and unaccountability. The rest of New York — including co-op owners, but not board members — overwhelmingly supports disclosure.”
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