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Cockroaches? Bedbugs? Big Deal: Termites Can Tear Down Your Building

448 W. 50th Street, Hell's Kitchen, Manhattan

Co-op Battles Termite Infestation
Oct. 13, 2014

Mark Dean, a cartoonist, moved into the complex in 1979. For four years in the late 1980s and early '90s, he served on the board. Then in 2010, Dean and several other residents became uneasy with the nine-member board that had been in power for years. The board didn't allow residents to attend meetings, a glaring lack of transparency.

Bungle in the Urban Jungle

A co-op conversion had been bungled, leaving the complex in a kind of rental/co-op limbo. Although the building was a rental, the board remained in power in anticipation of the building becoming a co-op eventually. And it had an unnerving tendency to keep fattening the reserve fund without spending any of the roughly $1 million sitting there on routine upkeep. Dean and his confederates feared that the board's inactivity was a prescription for disaster. Their fears proved to be well-founded. 

"The buildings had fallen into disrepair," says Dean, noting that the brick buildings were built on an infrastructure of wooden floor joists and wall studs. "The problem was that we had a lot of money saved because the old board didn't spend any money [on maintenance and repairs]." 

So Dean and four other like-minded residents ran for the board in 2010 and won five seats, a controlling majority. First, they voted to limit board terms to five years, a way of ensuring that no future board would become entrenched.

Termites of Encroachment

Then they hired a new super, Guillermo Paralta, whom Dean calls "a hard, hard worker, very conscientious. He knows his stuff."

On a tour of the basement at 448 West 50th Street, Dean and Paralta "scratched [a part of the wall] and termites flew out. So we called an exterminator, [who] ripped out the tin ceilings in all eight basements and found we had severe termite infestation as well as water damage. The oldest building, built in 1868, was in very bad shape. A lot of the wooden beams were rotted through."

The board contacted its property manager, Josh Koppel, president of HSC Management, who in turn contacted Baldwin Pest Control. The board also hired Rand Engineering & Architecture to draw up plans for repairing the extensive structural damage and, at Koppel's suggestion, hired the contractor Teamwork Restoration, which also had extensive experience repairing termite damage.

With the pieces in place, the job Dean calls "the big fix" got under way. Today, two years and almost $300,000 later, the work is nearly complete. Koppel, the property manager, described his role in the project this way: "It's coordination, keeping people informed, making sure the super's keeping an eye on the exterminator, making sure the engineer's keeping an eye on the contractor."


Adapted from "They Came From Below" by Bill Morris (Habitat, October 2014)

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