Here’s a story you do hear every day. A New Yorker buys an apartment in a shiny new condominium building. When he turns on the hot-water tap, it takes four minutes for the water to become lukewarm. His neighbors complain of similar plumbing problems. When they confront the property manager, they get promises that an engineer will investigate, but nothing improves. What’s the best way to get such problems fixed?
The condo association, not the unit-owner, is responsible for maintaining common elements like pipes in the walls, replies the Ask Real Estate column in the New York Times. But new condo buildings with fledgling boards often operate in a blurry limbo. In a new building, the sponsor of the development usually controls the board for a period of time, appointing members. This, unfortunately, is when construction defects usually come to light. Though the board has a fiduciary duty to protect the interests of the unit-owners, the sponsor-appointed members may not be motivated to fix problems that expose defects in the construction of the building, because they would have to dig into their own coffers to address them.
“Developers have this inherent conflict of interest when they control boards,” says attorney Steven Sladkus, a partner at Schwartz Sladkus Reich Greenberg Atlas. “They need to be pressed hard and reminded of their responsibility to the unit-owners and not just to what goes into their pockets.”
There is strength in numbers. Unit-owners should talk to their neighbors about problems in their units – and the responses they’ve gotten from management and the board. Unit-owners could form an association and send the board a letter detailing everyone’s issues and reminding the sponsor board members of their responsibility to all unit-owners. The association could also hire a lawyer to do this.
This is an opportunity to start creating a culture in the building, and to begin thinking about eventually taking the reins when power passes from the sponsor to the unit-owners. Until that happens, unit-owners need to press the sponsor to fix construction defects.
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