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Condo Residents Locked Out of Their Own Parking Lot

Frank Lovece in Legal/Financial

City Island

Sailmaker Condo

Free at last! The unlocked gate on the lower parking lot at the Sailmaker at City Island condo in the Bronx. (image via Google Maps)

All was not smooth sailing at the Sailmaker at City Island, a 34-unit, waterside condominium in the Bronx. Hurricane Sandy had lashed its 40-slip marina's seawall, boathouse, docks, gangways and bridges. When the waters receded, the board belatedly discovered that two unit-owners, including a former board president, had for years been claiming one of the building's two parking lots as their own.

The Sailmaker has 18 parking spaces in a ground-level lot, plus a lower-level parking lot adjacent to the marina. Married couple Paul Laddomada and Maura Mandrano – who own two apartments and were among the first people to buy when the former Ratsey & Lapthorn sail-making loft converted to condos in 1990 – also own four parking spaces in the upper lot. As Schofield Marina LLC, they own all 40 marina units.

The two also had exclusive use of the lower-level parking lot. This had been granted, they claimed, in a 1999 Amendment to the Declaration, which passed when Laddomada was board president. For years, no one questioned the claim.

But it began to unravel in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. During the long cleanup process, the city’s Environmental Control Board (ECB) fined the condominium $1,200 because Laddomada and Mandrano had converted their four ground-floor parking spaces into a storage unit without proper permits. The ECB also fined the condo $800 for a crane the couple was impermissibly storing in the lower-level parking lot.

The condo board was not thrilled by the fines. After several months of arbitration, the couple was forced to dismantle the storage unit and clear out the crane, plus additional debris and two junked cars. But the board had a question: Where's the documentation proving that the condo gave Laddomada and Mandrano the lower-level parking lot?

As condo board president Dr. Enrique Davis would eventually testify in court, the couple had "appropriated" the lot – with locked gates and all. It wasn't until this past July, at a judge's direction, that the board even received a key.

How did things reach this point? Laddomada claimed that at the October 1999 annual meeting, the unit-owners had voted to amend the Declaration. He offered the court no documentation other than the affidavit of a fellow resident who said she had tallied the vote and that the amendment passed.

No amendment is effective until it is recorded with the City Register. Laddomada did produce a document showing that the amendment was recorded. But it was dated May 13, 2015 – 16 years after the amendment was supposedly passed. As Judge Lizbeth Gonzalez drily noted, "Defendants proffer no explanation for the extensive delay." She also noted that amendment filings must contain the original executed certification of the condominium secretary, but that this one was filed by "" “An email address,” the judge said, “is not a person." She added, "Defendants' documents raise a question as to whether a fraud upon the Court was intended."

The judge confirmed on Oct. 3 that the lower-level parking lot was indeed a condominium common element. Though the board won the case, it had squandered some 16 years of parking convenience – and potential income.

The lesson for co-op and condo boards is to take nothing for granted when it comes to common elements – and demand documentation when an apartment-owner makes claims to something that's not an apartment. Especially if you don't have a key.

And always remember this: an email address is not a person.

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