New York's Cooperative and Condominium Community

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NEW YORK CITY

Evidence of construction is everywhere in the city. But not everyone looking to buy a co-op or condo gets to do it in a brand-new building — or wants to for that matter. Anyone who snaps up a unit in an older New York building can always remodel it: knock down a wall here, cut through another one there… with permissions, the sky's the limit.

Any remodeling work that requires a New York City Department of Buildings (DOB) permit also requires an asbestos survey. Here are some guidelines for how to properly perform and complete a survey, as well as an explanation of abatement procedures.

It began with an inquiry into the bribery of a single Department of Buildings (DOB) inspector. What followed was a nearly two-year investigation, initiated by the New York City Department of Investigation (DOI) and the Manhattan District Attorney's Office's Rackets Bureau, which revealed evidence of approximately $450,000 worth of alleged bribes made in connection with more than 100 residential and commercial properties in Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Queens. Defendants include eleven DOB employees; five Housing Preservation & Development (HPD) employees; and twenty-eight property managers, contractors, and expeditors.

How to Deal with a Neighbor Dispute Over an Allegedly Barking Dog

Written by Richard Siegler and Dale J. Degenshein on February 11, 2015

New York City

Police detective: "Is there any other point to which you would wish to draw my attention?"

Sherlock Holmes: "To the curious incident of the dog in the night-time."

Police detective: "The dog did nothing in the night-time."

Sherlock Holmes: "That was the curious incident."

— Sir Arthur Conan Doyle,  "Silver Blaze"

Cooperatives (and sometimes condominiums) are often asked to intervene when shareholders complain about noise — in particular noise from a barking dog in a neighboring apartment. The case of Ho Foong Shiu Realty Corp. v. Pullman involves a rental apartment building, but the court's analysis and ruling concerning the proof required is probably applicable to co-op apartments as well. 

Here's a story that highlights why it's important for shareholders and boards alike stay on top of paperwork. A shareholder in an East Midtown co-op owns two contiguous units that he combined into one. He tells Ronda Kaysen in the latest "Ask Real Estate" column in The New York Times that the city has not asked him to change the certificate of occupancy, nor has he requested to have it changed. "I pay two maintenance and utility bills. Should I request a certificate of occupancy update from the city? What are the pros and cons of doing so?" Kaysen explains that making the change is "not a matter of choice. It is dictated by the city’s building code and depends on how the apartments were combined." Co-ops tend to not approve renovations that require changing the certificate of occupancy, but to be safe, Kaysen recommends having the architect or engineer confirm whether the renovated apartment is in compliance with the law "and if that requires changing the certificate of occupancy." Even if the certificate of occupancy doesn't need to be updated, you may still need a letter of completion from the Department of Buildings (DOB). You don't want to find yourself in a position where you need to produce the appropriate paperwork and don't have it. Kaysen adds that the managing agent can combine the two stock certificates and leases into one to simplify the maintenance and utility bills. 

It was a question of security. The Sands, a 111-unit, 14-story co-op at 321 East 45 Street, was having intercom problems. Although the property, between First and Second Avenues, has a doorman on duty from 4 P.M. to midnight, residents were concerned about relying on the 56-year-old intercom as the only watchdog.

"The system was pretty much under continual repair because there seemed to be some internal wiring problems due to its age," recalls Tom Uhl, a board member. "In my own unit, I could release the door from my apartment, but I couldn't hear the doorman or any guests on the phone or they couldn't hear me. So it came down to the point where if I knew visitors were coming, they called me on the cellphone from the vestibule, and I released the door. But if I had a surprise guest or somebody was delivering something, and they didn't have my cellphone number, it was a problem."

Don't you hate it when you're stuck between a board that may be exceeding its authority and illegal Airbnb operators? Co-op and condo boards are savvy about illegal hotel operators, as often demonstrated in their bylaws. But boards aren't perfect, and sometimes they do go a little too far — even if they have the best of intentions. This seems to be the case at one New York City condo, where a board has instituted a new policy, a condo resident writes to Brickunderground.com. Those who live in the building must now submit a "permission to enter" form for every guest who stays over — without making the distinction between a significant other or relative crashing for the night and a short-term Airbnb subletter. The knee-jerk reaction is to remark that the board is being outrageous, nosy, and controlling. But when you consider that, as the same condo resident points out, these illegal short-term subletters are a persistent issue in the building, you kind of have to appreciate that the board is in a bit of a tight spot. On the one hand, the board has to protect the building and its residents. On the other hand, it does seem as if this board should consider relaxing the rules for regular visitors or family members. "A board requiring that written permission include addresses and phone numbers of [guests] might be viewed excessive for identifying entry authorization," says one of Brickunderground.com's experts Ken Lupano, executive director of Solstice Residential Group, a property management firm. "Perhaps that can be revisited." Just remember, employ the bees to honey approach and try to reason with the board. Lawsuits are time-consuming and expensive and will certainly generate a lot of bad blood.

How significant are slip-and-fall cases in the world of co-ops and condos? A quick and unscientific review of the cases filed in the last year shows that more than half seemed to be slip-and-fall cases. A cross-section of insurance brokers, managing agents, and attorneys reported that these were the five most common slip-and-fall areas you should guard against: (exterior) uneven sidewalks and slipper snow and ice and (interior) wet floors, dangerous floor coverings, and slipper pool areas. 

A READER ASKS: I serve on the board of a 13-story cooperative, and we are planning a series of major capital improvements in the next five years. The renovations include façade restoration work, roof repairs, a limited heating upgrade, replacing some of the windows, and minor changes to the lobby. Although the building is contemporary in style, it is located in a historic district, so we know we will need landmark permits. I read your Spotlight piece on the types of permits the LPC issues, but I am wondering the types of restrictions that we might expect the LPC to impose on the work we plan to do. Is approval required only for the exterior projects or for the interior work as well? Do we have to keep the building's appearance exactly the same or are visual changes allowed?

New York may have well dodged the almost bullet that was supposed to be Snowpocalypse 2015, but it still got enough snow and sleet to form slush puddles so formidable they may as well be lakes. Think we're exaggerating? Just ask any commuter who's had to wade through the icy muck for more than just a few blocks to avoid faceplanting on the slippery compacted ice. It feels like every year, the slush puddles get larger and larger — and if your waterproof boots are a lie, it really, really sucks. But does this have anything to do with co-ops and condos? As a matter of fact, it does! The severity of these infernal puddles can be prevented with the cooperation of citizens and businesses, says DNAinfo, including co-ops and condos. "The city's Department of Environmental Protection offers grants of $35,000 and up for green infrastructure updates to non-city-owned properties that reduce the impact on the city's sewer system. Co-op, condo and property owners can apply for the grants online for various projects. The DEP is promoting blue roofs — a sloped roof system that collects and stores precipitation — as well as rain gardens, which store excess water in perforated pipes under the plantings." Another thing co-ops and condos can do is what every New Yorker arguably excels at: complain. Call 311 and report those treacherous lagoons "so that the right city agency can get dispatched and the city can track patterns." And don't underestimate the power of joining forces with neighborhood businesses. If cooperation between co-ops and condos and businesses can lead to a rat-free neighborhood, it may be successful at pulling the plug on slush puddles.

Tax Alert! Co-op & Condo Tax Abatement Filings Due

Written by Eva C. Talel on February 05, 2015

New York City

An extremely important tax deadline is coming up in a little more than a week. We're talking about the deadline for New York City's co-op/condo abatement. This benefit can save eligible apartment owners a significant amount of real estate taxes. Typically, the abatement is 17.5 percent, but it may be as much as 28.1 percent in some buildings.

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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