Since co-op boards wield such extensive powers – including the power to accept or reject buyers and subletters – their actions frequently lead to debate, discord, and lawsuits. While condo boards have far more limited powers, they’re not immune to litigation.
Consider the six-story, 47-unit condo building in Sunnyside, Queens, where unit-owners have sued the condo board, claiming that Neal Milano, the building manager who also sits on the board, decorated the lobby with offensive “right-wing political propaganda” – including swastikas and pictures of Hitler and Stalin – and then refused to remove the materials when residents objected, the New York Times reports. The posters were eventually torn down by a local activist, but unit-owners say they were just part of a larger problem.
Lynn Calvacca, a Queens attorney who owns two units in the building, and her husband, Jerry Iannece, a criminal court judge, filed the lawsuit against the condo board. According to court filings, the board implemented high fees and fines without properly incorporating them into the building’s bylaws. Calvacca said those changes should have been approved by two-thirds of all the owners, not just a vote by the board members. The lawsuit claims Milano uses the fines to retaliate against unit-owners. In an unrelated matter, Milano was arrested last September on charges of stalking and harassing a tenant.
Complaints accusing Milano of discrimination prompted the city’s Commission on Human Rights to open an investigation. If housing discrimination is found, the commission could dissolve the board and ban existing board members from continuing to serve.
Jacob Laufer, the board’s attorney, said the fees were applied uniformly and never used to retaliate against anyone. He said the posters were historical and included Winston Churchill and other leaders. The current board members will not run in the upcoming election, he added, so they won’t have to fend off “demonstrably false and disturbing claims.”
Calvacca is hopeful the condo gets a responsible board and managing agent. “It’s a nicely located building near the 7 train,” she said. “But it is just a mess.”
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