New York's Cooperative and Condominium Community

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To paraphrase J.D. Salinger, raise high the green roof, carpenters: New York State has just expanded and extended the duration of the property-tax abatement for buildings that install an environmentally friendly "green roof" — one with plant life that helps provide energy-saving insulation and other eco-benefits. Amending the original 2008 law, it doubles the previous maximum benefit of $100,000, adds new plant species to the list of those applicable for the tax break and allows new drainage and other structural provisions to make installation easier.

For the most part, the bill-paying process is a streamlined machine with dozens of employees working in the management office to make sure vendors' bills are processed and paid correctly. But with scores of co-op and condo apartment buildings and hundreds of vendors, there is always room for error. On occasion, a bill intended for one property is accidentally paid for by its neighbor with a similar street address. In these cases, property managers simply have one building reimburse the other. But when the wrong vendor is paid — perhaps a check went to Superior Cleaning instead of Superior Plumbing — the resolution is trickier.

Our co-op board's lawyer was dragging his feet. He had been with us for about four or five years, and although he is a sole practitioner, he had always seemed good for what we needed. He answered our questions in a no-nonsense fashion, drafted letters when we (infrequently) needed them, and handled closings (which is where he made most of his money off us, as his hourly rate was very low).

Yes, the small firm was for us. Our previous lawyers had all been with large firms, and although those relationships had started off well enough, they eventually went south —because of us, or the lawyers, or circumstances, I'll never know which.

Are New York City elevator inspectors being arbitrary in finding violations, or is something even more troublesome going on?

"My super will say, 'The [elevator]inspector was here today,' and we go through the process with our service company to get costs on fixing the violations and deciding how to do this most cost-effectively," says Grant Varga, a longtime board member at the 13-story prewar co-op 12 West 67th Street, near Central Park. "Then, a couple of months later, a different inspector will come here and we get more violations. Why didn't the first inspector catch what the second one called violations?" he asks.

Veteran managing agent Gerard J. Picaso, president of Gerard J.Picaso Inc., who is unaffiliated with Varga's building, has had the same experience. "You do the work, and then another inspector says, 'Here's a bunch of other stuff that's wrong.' You go, 'Wait a minute. We just fixed a bunch of things.' But another guy looks at it from a different angle and you're back to doing more work."

Does Your Board Define the Problem Before Passing Rules?

Written by Donna DiMaggio Berger on January 10, 2014

New York State, New York City

Einstein is quoted as having said that if he had one hour to save the world he would spend fifty-five minutes defining the problem and only five minutes finding the solution. Co-op and condo board and homeowner-association counsel often do not hear of the existence of a new rule until we are being asked how to enforce it. In response, good counsel will ask for a history on the rule and how it came into existence. My first question is usually, "What was the problem that required you to pass this rule?"

Is Your Co-op or Condo Board Enforcing Phantom Rules?

Written by Donna DiMaggio Berger on April 12, 2013

New York City

We often hear of boards enforcing a variety of rules restricting pets, leasing, guests, commercial vehicles and more. Many times these restrictions are proper and the board is within its rights to enforce them. However, sometimes it is discovered that a long-standing restriction doesn't really exist. How does it happen that some boards are enforcing phantom rules?

Q. My condominium in Brooklyn has two unit-owners who don't pay their monthly charges. One seems to be having financial problems, but we're not sure about the other. Our property manager told us that we need to file a lien against the units, but I heard from somebody else that this could be very expensive and we still might not get paid. We are not a big condo, so we don't want to waste money, but we also can't afford to have some unit-owners who are not paying. What should we do?

Every day, hundreds of bills intended for the city's condos and co-ops arrive at the back offices of property management firms. Delivered in unassuming envelopes, they request payment for goods and services as varied as the buildings themselves. From the price of a new light bulb to a plumber's fee to the staggering cost of a new roof, the demands that the bills set forth must all be met to keep the wheels turning. Yet while management firms employ a complex processing system to ensure that vendors are paid correctly, the room for error is vast.

In fall 2013, New York City intends to begin making public how well — or not — buildings scored on the recently mandated energy benchmarking required by Local Law 84 of 2009. Not only will buyers, sellers and, really, any interested party be able to see how you stack up, but Fannie Mae, the federal agency that provides a secondary market for underlying financing, will also be studying the energy performance data. One can easily imagine a time, in the not too distant future, when your energy performance will play a significant role in your ability to obtain financing.

Homeowners rose in tax revolt again in 2012, yet politicians still failed to act to solve inequities hurting co-ops and condominiums. A board may have helped drive a resident to suicide. No-smoking rules, digitized offering plans and automated water-meter readers all made the news. And good boards and bad have their say and their day in some of the year's most interesting utterances.

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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