New York's Cooperative and Condominium Community

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NEW YORK CITY

Maybe not everyone in New York is a fan of all the new condos going up, but sometimes good does come out of the inconvenience of noisy construction sites. Founded by Polish immigrants from Mezritch in 1910, the Adas Yisroel Anshe Mezritch Synagogue fell into such a state of disrepair it was forced to close its doors six months ago. But before you lament yet another piece of New York history gone, good news. The synagogue is being completely renovated and is scheduled to open its doors again this year, thanks to a new condo plan, reports the New York Daily News. The temple will remain on the ground floor, and "three luxe apartments, including one 11-foot penthouse addition, will be built upstairs" and are scheduled to hit the market this fall. Not everyone is happy about turning part of a religious building "over to for-profit real estate developers," but thanks to the controversial deal, at least the building and the shul will be preserved. According to the Daily News, East River Partners (the developer) "is also planning to pay an annual maintenance fee to keep the shul running for 200 more years." That's a pretty neat compromise.

Photo by Nicholas Strini for Property Shark.

It's easy to forget that one of the byproducts of all this new condo construction is disruption of life as usual — unless you live across the street from it, that is. Take the rental building across the street from a luxury condo that is under construction. One of its tenants wrote to Ronda Kaysen's latest "Ask Real Estate" column in The New York Times explaining that a structure has been erected in front of the rental building to accommodate fire trucks from the station, likewise across the street from the construction site. According to the tenant, "taxis, cars and moving trucks can no longer pull up to the front of the building…. [and] traffic [has been] diverted to a small lane next to this structure, creating unsafe conditions for drivers and pedestrians." It's a political question, explains Kaysen, adding that the tenant could contact the Department of Transportation (DOT), or better yet the local community board or elected officials. But the bottom line is that, very likely, "the condo is an as-of-right development, which means that it was not subject to a public review process where the community would have had the opportunity to weigh in on practical matters like where to house fire trucks. This might explain why the structure seemingly rose out of thin air." It's something for existing co-ops and condos to keep in mind, especially since next time, one of those new condos — and any accompanying ugly structures — might be right outside their doors rather than outside a rental building.

A resident asks: I am on my condo's board. There's a unit owner who moved into the building a couple of years ago. She's on the first floor. A few months after she moved in, she placed two bins on the first floor for recycling, along with a notice letting unit owners know to use them. But she did this without consulting with the board. There's been nothing drastic, for now, but I'm trying to convince my board that we have to talk to her, get her to stop before the problem escalates and the building gets fined. They think I'm being dramatic. What can I do?

Annual water rate increases in New York City were in the low single digits a dozen years ago: prices rose by one percent in 2001 and by three percent in 2002. Then, in a terrible piece of timing, annual rate increases soared into double digits just as the Great Recession was reaching its terrible depths. In 2008 the increase was 11.5 percent; the following three years saw increases of 14.5 percent, 12.9 percent, and 12.9 percent. Just like that, water had become a major and growing expense when many buildings could least afford it.

Officials from the city's Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and the Water Board offered a variety of explanations that did little to mollify New Yorkers suddenly faced with staggering water bills. The officials blamed everything from neglected infrastructure to unfunded federal mandates. There is a lot of expensive work going on, including the construction of a $2.8 billion filtration plant, a $1.4 billion ultraviolet disinfection facility, and the ongoing work on the $6 billion Tunnel No. 3 that will supplement the city's two existing water tunnels, which were built in 1917 and 1936 and are expected to need major work in the future. That work will be addressed once Tunnel No. 3 is completed.

Early this month, The New York Times declared 2015 to be the Year of the Condo, and with good reason. Reports from various residential brokerages, including the Corcoran Sunshine Marketing Group cited by the Times, projected that at least 6,500 new luxury condo units in more than 100 buildings would be available for the taking this year. After a five-year drought, that figure seemed pretty impressive. But a report published last week by Halstead Property Development Marketing paints a different picture.

It looks like the number of new condos available for purchase this year is closer to about 3,500. Why?

Want one for the "Who'd have thunk it?" file? A landlord tried to evict a woman from her apartment in Harlem for secretly keeping a dog and thus being in violation of her lease. And lost. Why? Because secret agent pooch was not so secret, explains Brickunderground.com. It turns out that Gertrude Davis, the dog owner in question, not only produced various photos of Dutchess, the dog in question, taken on various dates in the building's common areas, but also had thrown the dog "a birthday party in the building several months prior to the suit." And guess who was at the party? Two points if you said "the landlord." According to the New York Daily News, which first reported the story, months after attending the pup's lavish birthday soiree, "the landlord moved to give [Davis] the boot," but Judge Sabrina Kraus wasn't buying it. According to court documents, reported both Brickunderground.com and the Daily News, "…the party pictures showed the dog was kept in an 'open and notorious' manner for more than three months." So there you have it. Thanks to that birthday party, Davis gets to stay in her home of 20 years.

What happens when a developer that plans to build a high-rise condo needs access to the neighboring condo to do prep work and is refused entry? They sue, of course. DNAinfo reports that developer Erik Ekstein needs to "demolish the five-story Madison Avenue Baptist Church at 30 E. 31st Street, but the neighboring condo building, M127, has refused to let workers inside." The developer filed a lawsuit on January 13 in New York Supreme Court against M127 for delaying work. According to the report, M127's managing board denied the developer access to its roof, side yard, and backyard so it can install temporary crack and vibration monitors and waterproofing, along with scaffolding. DNAinfo adds that a member of M127's managing board declined to comment. It's, therefore, not clear what motivated the board to refuse the developer access to its building, but it's potentially made a costly mistake. A lawsuit means time and money wasted. Existing condo (and co-op) boards should take note and not make the same mistake. It's only a matter of time before a developer begins building a new condo right next door — especially given all the construction anticipated this year.  

On the Money: Have You Heard of Cyber Insurance?

Written by Tom Soter on January 14, 2015

New York City

Associations have access to all kinds of information on their current, former, and potential residents. Consider what goes into an application for share purchase in a co-op: Social Security numbers, bank statements, dates of birth, etc. All this information is entrusted to the care of an organization and its property manager. 

And who would love to get their hands on this? Thieves — the kind who create false identities and bogus credit accounts.

What can co-op and condo boards do about this problem? Be careful of the information collected, of course. And then insure against its theft.

Airbnb and its supporters were dealt yet another blow ahead of a City Council hearing on January 20 at City Hall titled, "Short Term Rentals: Stimulating the Economy or Destabilizing Neighborhoods." New York City Council Fire and Criminal Justice Services Committee Chair Elizabeth Crowley has asked the New York City Fire Department (FDNY) to prioritize the investigation of 311 complaints reporting illegal hotel activity by companies like Airbnb because of the disproportionate public safety threat caused by fire code violations occurring in short-term rentals.

Some people seem to have all the luck. They spend about a month in New York, and rather than pay for a hotel or stay at an Airbnb accommodation, they buy a co-op. You may be asking yourself, "For a month?!?" Well, if money's no object, who are we to judge? But more money — as in "an extra maintenance fee" — is what one New York co-op wants from a resident who spends most of the year in China and just one month in his co-op apartment. Is the building out of line? After all, it seems unfair to penalize a shareholder with an extra maintenance charge simply because the apartment is not his primary residence. According to Brickunderground.com's Ask the Expert column, it does seem "like an unusual request, since [the shareholder] arguably put less stress on the building’s staff and facilities than full-time residents." But it's legit, explain the Brickunderground.com experts, who all added that they've never seen a provision like this one. "If the building has disclosed this potential fee in either your proprietary lease or your co-op bylaws, it’s legitimate." If it's not in the lease or bylaws, this shareholder may be able to challenge by filing a lawsuit on the grounds that the co-op had no right to impose the fee. Who knows? Maybe with a potential time-consuming and costly lawsuit looming over them, the co-op board may be willing to negotiate.

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