New York's Cooperative and Condominium Community

Habitat Magazine Insider Guide

HABITAT

NEW YORK CITY

Two months ago, I wrote about the difficulty of getting the Department of Buildings (DOB) to send an inspector to our small, 22-unit cooperative. The problem: Contractors remodeling a commercial space were working without any posted permits. It should have been simple to solve: Send a DOB rep and shut it down.

Nothing is ever simple with New York City, however.

One of the biggest concerns for co-op boards and condominium associations alike is securing sufficient revenue without charging residents more than they reasonably can handle. Yet more often than one might think, extra revenue can materialize simply by scrutinizing accounts already in place — whether it's making sure your commercial rents are being calculated properly or finding that your building's electricity bill is too high because some apartment are freeloading off the building's juice. In this latest installment of our Teachable Moments series, two veteran property-management pros relate their personal, firsthand experiences with just this kind of cash-flow scrutiny.

Residents' evolving needs and changing legal requirements often present a co-op board or condo association with a daunting task: amending your governing documents. A well-crafted amendment that complies with applicable law is the obvious objective. Developing this amendment document itself is generally the easy part of the amendment process if the board is represented by an experienced co-op / condo attorney. More frequently, the hardest parts of amending governing documents are getting the homeowners' attention, marketing the amendment to them and obtaining their approving votes.

Here are four questions to ponder if your board is proposing to amend its governing documents:

A condominium or cooperative's relationship with the building's superintendent is vital. He, and in rare cases she, is the caretaker of the property, the person who deals with emergencies and the one who meets with contractors, city officials and inspectors. The super often does private work for residents, and in larger co-ops and condos supervises the staff and oversees projects. 

Yet as with any relationship, sometimes things don't work out — and letting a super go can be as hard as any other breakup. You don't want it to be a cold Dear John letter, but you also don't want it to be Tiger Woods.

The holidays are here again, and so is the annual rite — and delicate art — of holiday tips and bonuses. The more thought and care that a condo or co-op board puts into this annual gift to the building staff, the longer the gesture will be savored. Although a tip and a bonus are very similar (both are intended to reward service), there is a subtle difference. Mary Ann Rothman, executive director of the Council of New York Cooperatives & Condominiums (CNYC), offers this definition: "Shareholders tip, boards give bonuses."

A board may make a seemingly innocuous — and certainly well-intended — change in house rules without consulting counsel. After all, it has the authority to enact these rules, so what could go wrong? The answer is plenty.

 

At  Morgan Court, a 22-story condominium in the Murray Hill section of Manhattan, a balky old generator stood sentry in a courtyard for decades. It provided some power to the building during the August 2003 blackout but then failed to function during routine maintenance checks. The condo board sporadically talked about fixing or replacing it but never did.

Then, the big storm hit.

As the president of our Upper West Side co-op board, I was concerned: I'd discovered that the leaseholder of a commercial space in our co-op appeared to be doing construction work without permission from the city; at least his workmen hadn't posted permits, as required by law. Since our building is self-managed, I took it upon myself to investigate.

My investigation didn't get very far. When I knocked on the door of the space, one of the men in dust-covered, paint-splattered overalls said, "Yes?" 

"What are you doing in there?" I asked.

A past installment of our Teachable Moments series looked at disaster preparedness and recovery. With scientists predicting more such extreme weather as superstorm Sandy, and with New York City's history of electrical blackouts, terrorism and other disasters — as well as lesser incidents like road-choking blizzards and plumbing-destroying cold snaps and ice storms — it's worth listening to two experienced property-management professionals as they each share a real-life story of how they spearheaded co-op / condo readiness and remediation.

Few things are more important, so it's a topic worth revisiting: An effective co-op board or condo association needs to build and maintain good relationships with shareholders or unit-owners. Not only is this practical and pragmatic from a governing standpoint, but it makes living in a cooperative or condominium much, much nicer than where there's rancor, suspicion and even lawsuits against imperious, secretive or disrespectful boards. Here, three veteran property managers offer their real-life experiences on maintaining a good board / resident relationship.

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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