New York's Cooperative and Condominium Community

Habitat Magazine Insider Guide




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.

New York City Council has approved property-tax rates for fiscal year 2014, slightly dropping the rate for co-ops and most condominium apartments to 13.145 percent of assessed value, the lowest in five years. The new rates, approved on Nov. 14 after significant delays, apply retroactively to the tax year running July 1, 2013, to June 30, 2014.

In the midst of al the decisions a board might have to make about the day-to-day upkeep of a co-op or condo building, one of the more subtle fiduciary responsibilities can get forgotten: the need to maintain or, preferably, increase the market values of homeowners' apartments. Adding amenities, of course, is one way to do this. But are there also policy-driven ways you can consider?

Updated Nov. 18 — New York City co-op and condo boards doing minor construction and renovation projects can now have their architecture and contracting professionals submit plans to the Department of Buildings for review and approval electronically, eliminating the time-consuming step of submitting them by hand to a borough office.

Called Hub Full-Service, under the aegis of the New York City Development Hub, this digital review and approval process impacts what the DOB says are 50,000 annual minor-construction applications known as Alteration Type-2 and Alteration Type-3 that are submitted each year by all categories of homeowners.

When a co-op shareholder or condo unit-owner living alone has either died or become incompetent or significantly incapacitated, and is no longer residing in the apartment, what should a board do? Whether you're in a cooperative or a condominium, you occasionally will be faces with requests for access to the apartment by a person claiming to be a close relative, boyfriend, girlfriend or legal representative of the owner. And even though the person making the request may be known to building staff or management, making them inclined to provide such access, you still should seek legal advice in this situation.

All boards have a natural tendency to protect the majority of their owners from the risky or disturbing activities of a few whose behavior may not fit the expectations of the community. However, evolving interpretations of state and federal laws grant additional protections to many of these persons, especially older and disabled residents, as well as families with children. Government and advocacy groups have also increased members’ awareness of their rights, forcing boards to adjust.

Arthur Gussaroff, the late managing partner of our firm, had a good story. He said there were two types of clients — those that call you before they do things and those that call you after they have to do things — and that the latter tended to pay dearly for that mistake.

A good example of this would be two of our residential-cooperative clients that had similar difficulties with their managing agents, but who dealt with them in very different ways. In both co-ops, the boards continued to have ever-increasing difficulties with the site managers and their managing companies.

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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