New York's Cooperative and Condominium Community

Habitat Magazine Insider Guide

HABITAT

NEW YORK CITY

A READER ASKS: My fellow board members and I are pretty sure the boiler isn't broken. In fact, we replaced it a few years ago. However, a handful of residents have complained that their apartments aren't getting warm enough. To be honest, I feel like my own apartment is too cold, especially given the fuel that's being consumed. It can't possibly be time to replace the boiler again, can it? We are having someone come look at it again, but do we need to brace for a massive expense again? 

Caroline Bragdon knows a thing or two about rats, as well she should. She's director of neighborhood interventions at the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene's office of pest control services. Bragdon runs the "Rat Academy," as it's often called. People call to set up a session, and a specially trained outreach staff member is sent to do a walk-through of the area. The program, which began in 2009, also offers informal seminars, as well as intensive three-day programs — the latter of which are geared more toward professional pest-control companies. 

When developers Peebles Corporation and El Ad Group bought the historic 14-story building at 346 Broadway from the city in May, many were afraid that time was running out for the 116-year-old landmarked clock that sits atop it. Early last week, reported DNAinfo.com, the Landmark Preservation Commission gave developers the green light to convert the building into upscale condos — which means the public landmark will become part of a private luxury condo. The good news is that developers promise to keep the clock functioning. And according to the article, the lucky duck who ends up owning the condo will be expected to keep the clock in good working order; officials will be inspecting. The catch? They will electrify the massive clock, "which for decades has been hand-wound by two retired city employees, Marvin Schneider, 75, and Forest Markowitz, 63." You can't make everybody happy all of the time — the Historic Districts Council and the Society for the Architecture of the City certainly aren't and are reportedly considering legal action — but it could be worse. Who would take over the hand-wound crank once Schneider and Markowitz aren't around anymore? At least this way, the clock carries on.

Ask not for whom the bell tolls, a group of real estate executives told Gotham magazine earlier this month; it tolls for co-ops. After dismissing co-ops as an endangered species and lavishing all their love on condos, it looks like those execs are going to have to wipe some egg off their faces. The New York Observer reports, "As condo developers continued to build their castles in the sky this past year, betting on an inexhaustible supply of billionaires… the co-op market… quietly reclaimed its mantle with all the hauteur of a scorned socialite." Nobody puts co-ops in the corner. In 2013, the biggest co-op sale didn't even make it to $50 million, says the Observer, adding that this year, nine co-op sales topped that figure. The top two deals were the "$71.27 million sale of the French government’s apartment at 740 Park and the $70 million sale of late billionaire Edgar Bronfman Sr.’s penthouse at 960 Fifth Avenue." What was that about not having a thing going for them at this point? It looks more like this year the co-op proved it's the comeback kid. 

If you're looking to buy a condo, boy does Freddie Mac have some good news for you. Brickunderground.com reports that the mortgage giant's new loan program, called Home Possible Advantage, will let potential condo buyers borrow up to 97 percent of an apartment's value — which means it's beginning to look a lot like a down payment of just 3 percent. Brickunderground.com did the math for you: "to buy a $500,000 apartment, for example, you'd only need $15,000 in the bank instead of a whopping $100,000." Best math ever? Not for potential co-op buyers, unfortunately. The program, which goes into effect March 23, is "only available for condos and single-family houses." Just as well, really, since co-ops often require a 20 percent down payment at least.

A READER ASKS: One of shareholders in my co-op, who happens to be my next-door neighbor, blasts music at all hours. I have asked him nicely to please turn the noise down, and even when he says he will, it continues. This has become increasingly disruptive to my family. My children are in school, my husband works from home, and I often have to bring work home. We can't concentrate, we can't sleep, and we can't even watch TV because his music drowns out the sound. I have read that co-op boards can evict shareholders for being a nuisance — without having to go to court. Is this true? What steps does my board need to take to make this happen as painlessly as possible?

Mandy Braun remembers the winter months both outside and inside her apartment. "Our windows were 30 years old and we had cold drafts coming in," says Braun, vice president of Cabrini Terrace, a 16-story post-war cooperative at 900 West 190th Street in the Hudson Heights section of Manhattan. "We were doing Local Law 11 work and could see erosion around some windows. For environmental reasons — heat and conservation — we knew it was time to replace them."

Braun is not alone. With contractors arranging their spring jobs now, many co-ops and condos are planning the "second phase" of window replacement. Three decades ago, many newly converted buildings took the plunge and replaced their windows. 

What does the developer of a high-end residential building do to sell an apartment in a condominium that is still being built? At the sales gallery for Greenwich Lane, a large residential complex being built in Greenwich Village where St. Vincent's Hospital once stood, they show potential buyers the Table, reports The New York Times, which describes it as "an 84-inch iPad on steroids." And it's been doing some heavy lifting. The Times reports that the Table helped to sell 100 apartments before the developer even had the chance to produce the first brochure. Just a tap and a swipe and voila! It's just one of the tools in a technological arsenal that developers across the city are leveraging to sell, sell, sell. As the old saying goes, necessity is the mother of invention, and this technology is pretty impressive. Welcome to the world of tomorrow. 

Breaking up may be hard to do. But what happens when a marriage is torn asunder, one of you wants to keep the condo, and the mortgage is in both your names? Well, transferring that loan to your name only may be even harder. This week, Brickunderground.com's Ask an Expert column tries to untangle the issue. Because the bank based its decision on the mortgage on two incomes, two credit scores, and two of everything, explains Brickunderground.com, it may not agree to transfer the loan to just the one person. Doesn't mean it's not worth a try, but the Brickunderground.com experts warn people in this situation to expect to have to qualify all on their own. Those who have an income that satisfies the bank's terms will probably get sole custody of the mortgage. Those who don't may be in for a "Kramer vs. Kramer" scenario, in which case a judge would have the final say on who gets the condo (and the mortgage) in the end.

'Tis the season for Christmas trees, and for elevators, hallways and lobbies to be covered in pine needles. And don't get us started on lighting fixtures in common areas that get knocked about as people drag their trees up to their apartments. They are sure pretty once they are indoors and decorated, but Christmas trees can be a real drag for building staff not only when people first get them, but also (if not more so) when it comes time to throw them away. According to Brickunderground.com's latest Ask an Expert column, one co-op board has come up with a Grinch-like plan: A Christmas tree embargo. Well, so claims the building's superintendent. But is a co-op board legally allowed to issue a building-wide ban on a popular (not to mention religious) symbol? Brickunderground.com experts say the drastic move is not likely to stand up should someone challenge it. Before building residents join in a chorus of "Bah, humbug!" they should first get the policy in writing directly from the board — not via word of mouth from the super. If, in fact, the co-op board intends on playing the role of Scrooge for the holiday, then residents can challenge... and compromise. Rather than ban trees, advises Mark Levine, executive vice president of property management firm Excel Bradshaw Management Group, the board should establish rules for residents to minimize mess and damage. Everybody wins.

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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