New York's Cooperative and Condominium Community

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It was a rubber mat that allegedly tripped Rita Brady — and may eventually trip up a co-op board in Rego Park, Queens. It just goes to show that when your contractor leaves hard marble slabs just laying around in the common area for anybody to fall into that the co-op or condo might still be responsible. For the cost of a new rubber mat, a co-op complex of over 2,000 apartments may find itself so broke it has to write rubber checks.

I was talking to attorney Mark Hankin, a partner at Hankin & Mazel, about "Papa Louie," one of Hankin's clients. I don't remember exactly how Louie got in touch with me — a lot comes across my desk every day — but the man intrigued me. Louie, in broken English, was pitching his life story to me, something along the lines of "My Autobiography: From Handyman to Board President."

Was he a self-promoting egoist? Or was he, as he claimed, a hard-working superintendent who graduated to the role of co-op board president? Curious, I called him up.

It's one thing to read about co-op or condo board officers' duties and responsibilities. But only another board officer can tell you what it's really like. In our ongoing series "Board 101," we present three co-op board treasurers sharing some of the most significant and even amusing things they've learned about taking on the role.

Laura Corwin knew the time had come to put an end to it when she got another $16,000 bill at the end of the year. “There’s a time when you say enough is enough.” The board of directors at her Forest Hills, Queens, co-op agreed. No one knew how old this particular pair was, but it was time for the two elevators to go. “The elevators were getting a little scary,” Corwin says.

 

Don Bilodeau, board president of a 72-unit condo in Astoria, Queens, started hearing two kinds of complaints about cigarette smoke shortly after he moved into the building in 2007. The first was about people smoking in common areas, which is forbidden in the bylaws. The second was about people smoking so heavily inside their apartments that the smoke was leaking into common areas.

Roughly 80 percent of the reduced-tax offers that the New York City Tax Commission makes each year get accepted, "for many reasons," says commission president Glenn Newman. "Sometimes," he says forthrightly, "the taxpayer just wants to get quick relief: We finish [our reviews] within the year, but court proceedings can take five years or more."

The commission has its own many reasons for making these reduced-tax offers, since, as it puts it in its annual report, "A fair and efficient review process is essential to reducing costly litigation of assessment disputes … that might be further contested [in court], costing additional time and resources for taxpayers and the city."

In 2008, a worker at the Americana co-op in Queens discovered oil in a basement tunnel. Heating oil was leaking from the property's 25,000-gallon underground storage tank, seeping into the soil and threatening to spill into neighboring Little Neck Bay. The New York Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) began digging trenches into the courtyard and tearing up the concrete parking lot to see how far the oil had spread.

Cleaning up the mess cost the co-op a whopping $400,000 —  but if the oil had contaminated the bay, the fines would have been crippling. The crisis prompted the board to move away from heating oil and replace the two lumbering, outmoded and inefficient boilers installed when the co-op — a 16-story tower and a block of townhouses — was built in 1968.

In spring 2007, advertising creative director Omar Yousif bought an apartment in the 66-unit Queens Plaza Condominiums in Long Island City. "Right away, we started having leaks," he says. "And there were loose coping stones on the roof, there were problems with the façade and some of the balconies were not level, which led to water damage."

"Real estate taxes have suddenly become the highest line item in a co-op's budget, and that being the case, boards should understand the [appeals] process," says attorney Eric Weiss, a tax specialist and partner at Tuchman Korngold Weiss Lippman & Gelles. "And they should be able to participate in the process if they feel that's important. I think it is important, from a budgetary standpoint."

It's not just a tax attorney saying that. Bob Friedrich, board president of the 110-building, 10,000-resident Glen Oaks Village co-op in Queens, agrees. "I think it's very important that all co-ops understand why they must appeal the valuations assessed against their properties," he says. This is also true of condo boards, which file appeals on behalf of the individually taxed apartment-owners, and for the condominium association's property taxes.

Larry Weinstein has worked in a variety of fields, including electrical engineering, architecture and lighting design. A resident of the 422-unit Silver Towers cond-op in Kew Gardens, Queens, Weinstein was elected president of the board last summer. Even before that, he put his professional expertise to work, supervising a retrofit of some 500 common-area lighting fixtures. By reducing their wattage from 36 to 6, the building got a $25,000 rebate from Con Ed on top of $35,000 annual savings on electricity bills.

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Learn all the basics of NYC co-op and condo management, with straight talk from heavy hitters in the field of co-op or condo apartments

Professionals in some of the key fields of co-op and condo board governance and building management answer common questions in their areas of expertise

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