Paula Chin in Building Operations on June 4, 2020
As New York City is convulsed by protests over the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, some co-op and condo boards are facing a problem that was unimaginable just a week ago: how to protect their street-level commercial spaces from looting and vandalism. There are smart precautions boards can take – but they need to move fast.
The obvious first step is boarding up windows and storefronts, but it’s not so simple. “If you don’t own the commercial space, you don’t have jurisdiction, so it requires coordination,” says Dawn Dickstein, president of MD2 Property Group, which manages several buildings that have been damaged. At one co-op near Union Square with a bodega and an eyeglass store, the board asked the owners to board up the businesses after the building’s super and a resident had to fend off looters one evening. But the owners didn’t respond. “We informed the board that even though they’re not responsible for the stores’ security, they could step in and take it on, which is something I recommend,” Dickstein says. “Safety comes first. You want to take action quickly to protect your property and residents.”
The board agreed, and she sent out a crew to do the job. But the street was blocked by police, and eventually the bodega was broken into and looted. “We managed to board them up after that and ensured that the owners had it all cleaned up,” says Dickstein, who is taking steps to make sure boards are communicating with the owners of their commercial spaces. “Managers should be working with boards and commercial owners to maintain a healthy building and property values and, if necessary, determining financial responsibility. Investing a couple thousand dollars now will save money down the line.”
That’s exactly what happened at a co-op in Soho with a street-level Amazon 4-star store. “They chose not to install protection at first, but after we reached out to them, they changed their mind,” says Paul Brensilber, president of Jordan Cooper, which manages the building. At properties where smaller commercial tenants haven’t been able to secure plywood and storefront replacement glass – both are in short supply – Brensilber has been hiring contractors to help them get the job done.
Whether a co-op or commercial tenant owns the space, looting is a covered cause of loss in most insurance policies. Even so, “boards should review their governing documents and leases to see who is responsible and what they are required to do, and then take necessary steps,” says Barbara Strauss, executive vice president at York International Agency.
For her part, Dickstein informed the board and the owner of the commercial space that management was going to proceed with boarding up the Union Square commercial space to protect the building, barring any objections. There were none.
From an insurance standpoint, protecting the building is a smart move, according to Michael Spain, president of Spain Agency, an insurance brokerage. “It’s incumbent on boards to use good judgment to protect their buildings, as well as prevent further damage after stores are looted,” he says. “No matter what, you want to show your insurer that you made your best efforts.”
As for protecting residential property, boards need to decide whether they want to put plywood over their lobby windows or install a security guard at the door. “That needs to be discussed with the managing agent,” Brensilber says. “So far, looters haven’t targeted lobbies. But with stores closed and vulnerable, there is the risk that damage to the commercial space could impact the residential.”
Security guards, Dickstein notes, can only act as a deterrent. “But they do give residents a sense of safety and show that steps are being taken to mitigate any damage,” she says. The bottom line for boards is that they be alert and in touch with management to ride out the current storm – and prepare for future ones. “It’s all uncharted territory,” Dickstein says. “But we’re up to the challenge.”
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