New York's Cooperative and Condominium Community

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Ask any middle-class or working class New Yorker, and they'll tell you that limited-equity Mitchell-Lama co-ops such as Manhattan's Penn South, The Bronx's Co-op City and Brooklyn's Cadman Towers are miracles that allow them to keep living and working in an increasingly expensive city. But the problem, as writes, is that there are only 45,400 Mitchell-Lama co-op and rental apartments left, in 98 buildings, down from the 105,000 apartments in 269 buildings constructed under the program beginning in 1955. So when we hear that New York State Senator Jeffrey D. Klein (D - 34th District) proposed in December that $750 million be funneled into revitalizing the program over five years, well, a lot of people raised their glasses in toast to State Senator MacNeil Mitchell and Assemblyman Alfred Lama for creating the program in the first place. Of course, we being middle- or working-class, we're toasting with an inexpensive sparkling wine rather than Champagne. But what the hey ... l'chaim! Oh, and write your representatives to encourage them.

Looks like a few residents of 45 East 66th Street had a rotten weekend, including one of its more famous ones: Rudolph W. Giuliani. Despite his objections, even the former New York City mayor couldn't stop the Landmarks Preservation Commission from greenlighting an application to construct a new penthouse on top of the existing 11th-floor penthouse at the tony building with the Gothic terracotta façade, reports Curbed. Also against the proposal are Christabel Gough of the Society for the Architecture of the City and Community Board 8. But it looks like the commission was satisfied with the plans it reviewed, which according to Curbed, would match in color and barely be "visible from most vantage points on the street." So it looks like soon Giuliani will next be complaining about construction work at the landmarked building.

A READER ASKS: I am a member at my co-op's board. One of the tenants called us to let us know she found mold in her apartment. We are already discussing the steps to take to eliminate the mold; but I am concerned that we aren't moving fast enough. Instead, we seem to be getting caught up in a debate about who pays for what even though the tenant hasn't broached the subject of who's responsible for footing the bill. I'm concerned that if we wait too long, the tenant will get sick and take us to court. My fellow board members think I'm worrying over a whole lot of nothing. Can you advise us on the steps we should be taking so we can avoid a worst-case scenario? 

A co-op in West Harlem has two sets of front doors. The inner door is always closed; to get in you need a key or have someone buzz you in. The outer door is open during the day, but closed at night — and the only way you can open it is with a key. Never mind that it's a pain for shareholders to have to walk downstairs to let guests into the building at night. What about residents with mobility issues? Or residents who are too ill to leave their apartments? And what if there's an emergency? These are the questions Ronda Kaysen tackles in the latest "Ask Real Estate" column in The New York Times. Kaysen explains that keeping the outer door locked at night not only constitutes a safety hazard but also violates city and state rules. Although apartment buildings with eight or more units are required to have self-locking entrance doors, she explains, visitors — not to mention emergency services — must have access to the buzzer system. That's just good sense. Safety first should always be the bottom line for building residents, but total lockdown is taking caution to the opposite extreme.

Your home may well be your castle, but when it comes to co-op life, everyone has to abide by the house rules. And those rules vary from co-op to co-op, including the 80% carpet rule. Many buildings, including co-ops, are sticklers about carpets because they dampen noise and keep noise complaints down. But what about rugs? That's the question a retired nurse (with a chronic illness) asked in its latest Ask the Expert column. Her co-op board requires wall-to-wall carpeting — which it can do thanks to the business judgment rule. She's restored her wood floors, hence the rugs, and says that her downstairs neighbor has never complained about noise. But the board — which discovered she was in violation of the carpet rule while conducting a building-wide inspection on another matter — is saying she's got to install it, and she's saying she can't afford it. While one expert doubts the board will take her to court over the matter, another points out that a court, thanks to the business judgment rule, "could easily defer to [the] board on [the] issue." The bottom line: the cost of fighting in court would probably be greater than just getting the wall-to-wall carpet. Then again, the business judgment rule allows boards to rescind rules. Maybe with a bit of smooth talking she can convince her board to sweep the rule under the rug.

Community Board 7 last week approved a proposal to convert a historic church at 361 Central Park West into condos after architects agreed to revise their original design. According to DNAinfo, Li Saltzman Architects and GKV Architects have removed dozens of the 70 windows they planned to add after board members argued it made the 100-year-old landmarked Crenshaw Christian Center East look like it had been "shot out [with] a machine gun." Whoa. Replacing the small windows will be "three long windows spanning nearly the entire height of the building that they described as 'ribbons' of glass," reported DNAinfo. Despite getting the board's blessing, however, it seems the old adage that you can't please all the people all of the time rings true here. Not surprisingly, neighboring residents who largely oppose the project still hate it. You can't really blame them, either. The architects plan on getting rid of the church's stained-glass windows. Sadly, however, it comes down to an ultimatum: Lose the windows, or risk losing the whole building. The condo conversion project goes before the Landmarks Preservation Commission today for review.

Nobody wants to be that guy — the chronic complainer, the nit-picker, the drag who makes mountains out of molehills — especially when it comes to subjective issues, such as noise complaints. Hearing a next-door neighbor sneeze now and again may not be a big deal to many. Hearing a next-door neighbor hock loogies for an hour while you are trying to have dinner? No. Noise is an especially sensitive issue within co-ops and condos. The problem, of course, is that boards need to figure out whether a tenant is overly sensitive to noises that are par for the course in apartment life, or whether the noise in question is truly bothersome.

The Energy Detective: The Case of the Telltale Tank

Written by Tom Sahagian on December 08, 2014

New York City

My friend Victoria is no heating expert, but she knows a lot more than most people, and is frequently at loggerheads with the insufferable know-it-alls on her cooperative's board — especially when they are about to waste a lot of the co-op's money.

When I got home I found an agitated e-mail from her. There appeared to be a significant leak in her boiler, a contractor had taken a look and recommended a new boiler, heating season was starting in a month, and the know-it-alls were about to vote to go ahead with the replacement. Could I take a look ASAP?

My recollection was that her building had a hydronic, or forced hot water, heating system with multiple atmospheric gas-fired cast-iron boilers. It had been installed recently, but before Victoria had joined the board.

A READER ASKS: Our co-op is usually well maintained. A few weeks ago, however, one of the shareholders called the super to complain about cockroaches. A few days after that I found and killed a couple in my apartment. We've never had bugs before. I suspect the source of the infestation is a possible hoarder on the floor above me. How can we prove this without violating anyone's privacy, and if it does turn out to be a hoarder, what should we do next? 

Old joke: Marriage is an institution. And so who wants to live in an institution? Bah-dump-dump. 

Here's the point: When you live in a co-op or condo, you live in a corporate institution run by a board of directors — who happen to be volunteers who can leave the board if they burn out, move away, or find they need to spend more time with the kids. Once two or three of them of do, your institution starts to lose something that more traditional institutions do not: institutional memory of decisions, policies, and rules made eight, nine years ago that no one remembers anymore.

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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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