New York's Cooperative and Condominium Community

Habitat Magazine Insider Guide

HABITAT

NEW YORK CITY

October 15, 2010 — The New York City Department of Buildings appears to be on a crackdown regarding Local law 11 repairs, as reported in the October issue of Habitat. Now it appears that its sister agency, the NYC Department of Environmental Protection, is doing likewise over a small, science fictiony-looking piece of plumbing equipment called a backflow-prevention device. And if your co-op or condo doesn't have these installed where you should, backflow could turn into cash flow – from your bank account to the city's coffers. Also, a shutoff of your water supply. Ouch.
 
Not all co-ops or condos need a backflow-prevention device. But how do you know if yours does? And if so, what do you need to do?

What to bequeath your co-op apartment to a sibling after you're gone? That grave undertaking could be the death of you, since any assignment of your co-op shares to anyone other than a child or a spouse has to be approved by the board (and sometimes even then). How can you help make that happen, so that you can rest in peace? BrickUnderground.com's "Ask the Expert" column unearths advice from two top real-estate attorneys, who explain the little-known fact that, one puts it, a board can't "unreasonably withhold a bequest to a financially responsible member of the shareholder's family." For more and for details, vault over to the article — it's anything but crypt-ic! (And later check out the Habitat article "Transferring Co-op Shares After a Death.")

Children being turned away from playrooms, seniors denied use of the gym and developer Extell's infamous "poor door" at 40 Riverside Boulevard: Such refusal of amenities to rent-stabilized and subsidized residents in some high-end co-ops, condos and rental buildings are prompting legislators to seek laws preventing such practices. Ronda Kaysen's eye-opening article in The New York Times reports on several cases, which critics say divides communities and turns average working people, from teachers to entertainers to retirees, into pariahs in their own homes. What do advocates say? According to the head of one development company it's because such people may — may — bring down property values. How exactly a police officer, nurse, social worker or graphic designer brings down property values, nobody is saying.

A READER ASKS: I want to perform some renovations in my co-op. I know that I'll probably have to fill out an alteration agreement, but what should I look for on the forms? What kind of restrictions or details am I facing?

Joanne Kaufman's New York Times article about families who become friends with the super and other building staff — to the point of having dinner, drinks or even a Hamptons weekend together — initially gives a warm and fuzzy feeling about the brotherhood of man. But as Dan Wurtzel, president of one the largest property-management firms in New York City, notes, this can "foster an environment of favoritism, a perception that not all residents are treated equally." Two leadership consultants agree, saying, "It can put the professionalism of the staff into question and create discomfort for observers because the roles of the players are now unclear.” It's a tricky issue, since true friendship is one of life's rare treasures. What do you think? Comment below.

The federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission enforces the longstanding Pregnancy Discrimination Act, which requires an employer to treat a pregnant employee the same as other worker. But a July 14 guideline issued by the EEOC states that if an accommodation is being given to a non-pregnant disabled employee with similar ability to work, then even a non-disabled pregnant employee can request the same accommodation. There's more to it, and it's complicated even for an attorney, as Doug Oldham of Barnes & Thornburg explains at the legal-issues site Lexology.com. If your building has any pregnant employees, such as desk staff or security, condo and co-op boards should keep this new guidance in mind.

When superstorm Sandy hit, co-op and condo owners and many others trying to evacuate and later return home found endless lines at the few gas stations that hadn't completely run out of fuel. Even some emergency vehicles faced gasoline shortages. In response, the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) has just launched two initiatives under the heading Fuel NY. It includes the nation's first State Strategic Gasoline Reserve and the requirement that about 1,000 gas stations in New York City, Long Island, Westchester County and Rockland County have backup-power generators. The reserve — nearly three million gallons of fuel stored at Northville Industries' terminal in Suffolk County — will be sold to distributors at market prices to provide it to emergency responders, government customers and retail gasoline outlets during emergencies.

With very rare exception, all underlying mortgages have prepayment penalties. Many people think that this is unfair and that every borrower should be able to repay the loan whenever the borrower wants without penalty. From the borrower’s perspective, free prepayment makes perfect sense. However, from the lender’s point of view, it does not. To be fair, if the borrower can prepay whenever interest rates go down, then the lender should be able to demand loan repayment whenever interest rates go up. Most borrowers would strongly object to that.

That the Federal National Mortgage Association, popularly known as Fannie Mae, is cracking down on housing loans isn't news to co-op and condo apartment buyers. But some fine print might be: If there's a lawsuit against the co-op or condo building for an unspecified amount, and the building's insurance can't or won't cover it, Fannie Mae will not back your loan — and you can say goodbye to that apartment. So what exactly's going on?

A co-op / condo price overview in BrickUnderground.com, pulling together facts and figures from a multitude of reports, finds the median price of a Manhattan apartment is now $910,000. It's hard to compare that with the other boroughs, where single-family houses figure far more into the mix. So keeping that in mind, the median sales price of a Brooklyn home jumped 4.5 percent from a year ago, to $575,000. Queens, oddly, actually dropped 9 percent, to $355,000 from $390,000. So where do Staten Island and The Bronx fit into this? Nobody seems to be mentioning them, so that may be were apartment-hunters' true bargains await.

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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