New York's Cooperative and Condominium Community

Habitat Magazine June 2020 free digital issue

HABITAT

NEW YORK CITY

To try to avoid unethical behavior by co-op and condominium board members, attorney Steve Wagner, a partner at Porzio Bromberg & Newman, suggests the board create and make members aware of its code of conduct or code of ethics. This includes a series of ethical promises: no kickbacks, full disclosure of any connection with the vendors, no self-dealing, and so on.

Condominium and co-op boards can require residents to carry homeowners insurance. In two earlier articles, we looked at reasons for that and at ways to help enforce that requirement. So exactly what type of homeowners insurance should they carry? There are different types, and a unit-owner or shareholder buying the wrong kind won't have all the coverage he or she might expect — and if a severe issue hits, then the board may well find itself drawn in to patch up problems and then sue to recover the damages. And that's never fun.

Many co-op and condo boards require its shareholders or unit-owners to carry homeowner insurance. It makes for a smoother-running building by, for instance, not having to have the building pay for repairs when an uninsured resident damages a common area, and then having sue the resident to recoup the outlay. Or if a contractor hired by an uninsured resident hurts himself due to the resident's negligence, leading the contractor to sue the building. So, yeah, lots of scenarios you could think of make it good to have your homeowners be insured. But enforcing that requirement? Good luck. Fortunately, there are ways to help you do that.

In February, a 105-unit condominium near Ocean Parkway in Brooklyn saw its insurance premium spike by 30 percent to $44,000. A 148-unit condo on the Upper East Side of Manhattan watched its bill jump 10 percent, to nearly $72,000. And a doorman co-op in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn, recently swallowed a 9 percent premium increase. Condos and co-ops across New York City are bracing for an expensive insurance market, as insurers raise rates for the first time in years.

No building seems immune. Even co-ops and condos that are fully insured and haven't filed claims are watching their rates jump by as much as 9 percent and their deductible limits rising. Other buildings are discovering that their carrier simply won't cover them anymore.

In a previous article today, attorney Arthur Weinstein explained how some seemingly innocent co-op board admissions-interview questions could backfire into charges of discrimination. This doesn't mean boards are helpless to make inquiries involving smoking, loud music, expectations of amenities and other  quality-of-life issues. Here are five ready-made questions Weinstein suggests to help admissions-committee members safely navigate the shoals of co-op community-building.

You're on your co-op board's admissions committee, asking questions of a prospective purchaser. But be warned: Admissions interview questions can be like sticks of dynamite, waiting to explode in your face. "There are New York State, New York City and federal laws against various types of discrimination that could be quite fatal for a co-op board of directors," explains attorney Arthur Weinstein. "There are 16 kinds of discrimination that the laws describe, and it is very easy for a board to get into a discussion with a prospective shareholder where the board will learn that the candidate falls within one of the protective categories and now the board could be accused of discrimination if the candidate is rejected."

A reader writes: Our condominium is confronting several large repair projects. We are evenly divided between those who favor assessments to fund the individual projects as we do them and those who want to borrow enough money up front to pay for them all. Who's right?

This question concern the role of debt. Taking away our individual emotional and cultural concerns — some people abhor debt, others find ways to use it —  the strictly financial approach compares the cost of the money being borrowed to the value or benefit derived from the loan. 

A reader writes: Our co-op's underlying mortgage is coming due this summer. Our treasurer says that we should pay it off instead of refinancing because "every apartment in the building will jump in value once we get rid of our mortgage." According to him, our reserve fund plus a "small" assessment would be enough to pay it off. Should we do it?

It may be scant comfort to know that almost all small co-ops encounter this problem. One reason comes from the lender's perspective. It takes the same amount of work, and sometimes more, to do a small loan as it does to do a big one. As loan size drops, it begins to make no economic sense to do a deal. This is especially true for large lenders.

True story: Shareholders at one Manhattan co-op voted down a referendum that would have required them to buy homeowner insurance. Then one day some water pipes burst, the building's insurance didn't cover all the damage, and the board had to issue an assessment to make up the difference. Shareholders who had homeowners insurance got reimbursed by their insurance companies for the assessment amount. Those without had to pay out of pocket. And the next time the board tried to require homeowner insurance — the shareholders voted it down again!

Guess you can't insure against shortsightedness. That notwithstanding, condo and co-op boards still may want to mandate that unit-owners and shareholders carry insurance, as many buildings already require. But how?

Ask the Experts

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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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