New York's Cooperative and Condominium Community

Habitat Magazine Business of Management 2021



Buyers pay a premium for a co-op or condo apartment with outdoor space. But what happens when a terrace needs repairs that prevent the shareholder or unit-owner from using it?

That was the question in Goldhirsch v. St. George Tower & Grill Owners Corp.

In the early 1980s, the 16-unit co-op at 572 Sterling Place in the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn was an abandoned, derelict shell. Catholic Charities and the parish of St. Theresa of Avila helped secure it a $440,000, 30-year mortgage, and property was incorporated as a co-op under the city's Housing Development Fund Corporation (HDFC). Each unit was valued at just $27,500, and shareholders agreed to contribute sweat equity for 10 percent of that sum, including demolition work and installing flooring, trim, and cabinets.

It was a building designed to be affordable to low- and middle-income New Yorkers. But now some shareholders, delighted by the low price when they bought, are seeing things differently as they go to sell — warping the very affordability the HDFC program fosters.

Exploding toilets sounds like the punch line of a joke. But to the residents of Caton Towers, a 283-unit high-rise co-op in the Kensington section of Brooklyn, it was no laughing matter. A string of recent toilet explosions in the building injured three people — and now the co-op is facing three lawsuits.

The worst part is, that's not the worst part. Because of the three lawsuits, the Federal National Mortgage Association, popularly known as Fannie Mae, is now declining to back mortgages in the building, causing half a dozen potential sales to fall through.

The single biggest complaint among co-op and condo residents? Probably the neighbors' noise. And at one condominium in Park Slope, Brooklyn, that noisy neighbor is nothing less than a DJ who produces music — in a studio in his apartment. After months of fruitless negotiation between neighbors, the condo board told the DJ that a music-production studio violates zoning laws and to either soundproof the place or wear headphones while playing music. The DJ refused to do either — and, incredibly, the condo board backed down! What recourse do the DJ's neighbors have? The New York TimesRonda Kaysen examines options in her "Ask Real Estate" column. She also helps an East Williamsburg reader wanting to know about rent-to-own apartments, and discusses an East Village co-op board whose members are paid for their service.

The board at 572 Sterling Place deals with challenges every day, but its members know how to face them. The key, they say, is that instead of picking up the phone and calling a manager when problems and challenges arise, they're willing to roll up their sleeves and take on the task themselves. Or, as board vice president Ralph Pinero puts it: "Nowadays, if you want a place to live that's decent and affordable, you're going to have to get your hands dirty."

For New Yorkers of the 1990s, Brooklyn's Crown Heights neighborhood was the fearsome site of racial conflict, crime and the aptly named Crown Heights Riot. Lately it's been the scene of "knockout game" attacks. But architecturally, Crown Heights is a crown jewel, and now, joining its townhouses and rowhouses, comes a cornucopia of condominiums. The New York Times reports on a plethora of projects, including one at the prewar building 875 St. Marks Avenue, where all but two of its seven condos have sold for prices ranging from $470,000 to $659,000.

Co-ops may still be less expensive than condos, but that doesn't mean that costs aren't going up. In the last year, Brooklyn co-op prices skyrocketed 71 percent; Manhattan prices rose as well, but only 34 percent. According to DNAinfo, the reason for the price increase is actually the unattainable prices of condos in New York City. Compared to condos, co-ops are currently more competitive, particularly in Brooklyn, where units are more scarce – although, one expert said that available units are up everywhere, as long as buyers are willing to compromise. 

Recent news affecting co-op / condo buyers, sellers, boards and residents — but especially boards this week. A new condo in Brooklyn enhances its appeal and market value by supporting an adjacent park. A notorious Airbnb hotelier takes a fall. Learn what amenities add a lot to the cost of maintaining a co-op or condo building, and which don't. And find who NYSERDA calls New York City's top four engineering firms in helping buildings achieve energy-efficiency. Plus: Condo fire on Staten Island, tips for acing your co-op board admission interview, and the seller of a co-op in the "Ghostbusters building" (above) doesn't get slimed on the price.

Erected in 1905, the rental building at 34 Jefferson Avenue in Brooklyn, where the Clinton Hill and Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhoods meet, has a tangled history. Tenants took the landlord to court in 1979 and won permission to move toward becoming a limited-equity Housing Development Fund Corporation (HDFC) co-op.

But after three years, virtually no steps had been taken toward converting the 66-unit building. In 2001, some residents came up with a strategy. If the building stopped paying its real estate taxes, it would eventually become delinquent and would then qualify for New York City's "Third Party Transfer" (TPT) program.

Alan Gorelick, the former executive vice president of the Manhattan property-management firm Saparn Realty, pleaded guilty yesterday to stealing $2.6 million from approximately 30 buildings he used to manage. He was convicted in Manhattan Supreme Court of second-degree grand larceny, criminal possession of a forged instrument and scheming to defraud.

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