New York's Cooperative and Condominium Community

Habitat Magazine June 2020 free digital issue




An Emergency Flood Puts One Co-op's Disaster Playbook to the Test

Bill Morris in Building Operations on March 25, 2014

Butterfield House, 37 W. 12th Street, Greenwich Village

Flooded room at Butterfield House, January 2014. Photo by Carol Ott.
March 25, 2014

"We were in constant communication with the shareholders through BuildingLink," a popular online service to which many co-ops and condos subscribe. "It minimized the anxiety," says managing agent Brenda Ballison of Douglas Elliman Property Management. "It's important to give residents as much information as you can. What you know, they should know. Be honest and open with the information you have."

And Butterfield House was far from unprepared. Several years ago, at the urging of co-op board president Asher Bernstein, Ballison had put together "The Bible," a document that contains contact information for all shareholders, staff, vendors, and the insurance broker, plus the proprietary lease, bylaws, house rules, and alteration rules. It also includes contact details for the technicians who service the building's elevator, as well as electrical, plumbing, and garbage removal systems.

Creating such a directory is "the one thing I would urge all boards to do," says Bernstein. "It's the place you can go for all information."

Matthew Liss, the board treasurer, adds that boards should know their population and make sure their managing agent is proactive in dealing with the issues.

Have a Policy About Policies

Another key to preparation is reviewing the corporation's insurance policy and making sure that shareholders' individual homeowner policies are up-to-date and adequate. Disputes arose at Butterfield House, for instance, over coverage of living expenses for those who chose to leave the building. Some homeowner policies cover such costs only if the city orders an evacuation of the building, which did not happen in this case.

The job of rebuilding is expected to take three to six months. Once all the water, mud, and ruined vehicles and equipment were removed from the underground spaces, mold remediation was required. As the work progressed, the board discussed erecting a protective gate on the garage entrance to repel floodwater if such a freak accident should recur — or if a hurricane worse than Sandy hits. The members of this board, like so many New Yorkers, share the uneasy sense that it's not a question of if, but when.

"I think the storms and bad weather are going to worsen," says Bernstein. "The next episode is going to be different — equally harsh, but different."

The City's 19th-century infrastructure isn't getting any younger, either, which leads the super at Butterfield House to believe that this was not a unique disaster. "I don't think we've seen the last of the water main breaks, so it makes sense to be proactive," says Bissell. "We don't know where the world is going."


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Photo by Carol Ott.

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