New York's Cooperative and Condominium Community

Habitat Magazine Insider Guide



An exclusive Habitat co-op/condo board survey shows that co-op and condo boards seem to stick with their property-management firms. Slightly over 60 percent have been with their current firm six years or more; some 16.5 percent have been with the same firm for 11 to 15 years; and some 12.6 percent have had a more-than-21-year relationship.

But despite this longevity, 40.6 percent say the performance of their current managing agent is "subpar" or "needs improving." It's easy to see there's a difference between what boards accept and what boards expect.

Co-op and condo boards "have a couple of options" when it comes to lead-paint testing, says John Marino, owner of the contractor JMPB Enterprises. "Either use an EPA-certified contractor to test for lead or hire an outside firm." An outside firm  "provides more sophisticated testing methods, typically with the same results but for more money."

Designer Joel Ergas, of Forbes-Ergas Design Associates, begs to differ. "I don't think a test by an outside consultant is egregiously expensive," he says. "Our experience is that it's in the $600 to $800 range. Is that a lot of money? If you're a tiny little building, it can be." But it can save money, too. "If you test prior to a general contractor becoming involved, you know exactly what the scope of the job is and [so] the job can be bid accordingly. If the general contractor does it, he's already onsite and he's open to charge whatever he wants to do lead-safe practices. We like to know upfront [if there's lead] so that the job can be bid out accordingly."

Eric Ackerman, board president of a 192-unit co-op in Mamaroneck in Westchester County, recalls the incident clearly. A tenant-shareholder approached him in the elevator and asked: "Where was all that smoke coming from the day before yesterday?"

"Smoke?" Ackerman replied. It was the first he had heard about it. 

Puzzled, he called the property manager.

I talk to reporters almost every day, and one thing is clear: Many of the most negative stories we see are generated by homeowners who have turned to the media for public redress of their personal grievances — valid or not. Reporters love David-and-Goliath stories that pit underdogs against an "all-powerful" HOAs, co-op boards or condominium associations. Like it or not, that's our reality.

More often than not, the reporter is given what seems to be a distorted, one-sided perspective.  That's bad enough, but here's the disheartening part: All too often I'm told that the board won't talk to the reporter — hiding behind the incriminating lament "No comment" or simply not returning calls. Hiding is exactly how reporters see it, and that's usually viewed as an admission of guilt, incompetence or worse.

The savings can be significant. Last fall, Cooper Square Realty, which manages 600 properties, pooled 250 of them to buy electricity from an electricity service company. So, instead of buying 500 kwh of electricity for a single building, the company shopped for 130 million kwh. Individual properties saved between 9 and 20 percent on electricity costs.

"You get a better pricing structure because of the volume," says Cooper Square president Dan Wurtzel. His firm hopes to eventually bring all its managed properties into the new plan.

Buying in bulk also works for capital improvements. Five years ago, Fairfield Properties offered six of its properties the opportunity to convert to natural gas. By bundling the projects together, the company reduced the upgrade costs. The five properties that agreed to the offer are each saving about $100,000 a year on heating costs, says Alvin Wasserman, director of Fairfield.

Just like testing for and removing asbestos, co-op boards and condo associations have to test for and remove toxic, brain-damaging lead paint. But to hear engineers, contractors, environmental consultants and others tell it, not every co-op or condo board seems to be aware of or perhaps even care about the myriad city and federal rules for lead-paint inspection and removal — or of the five-figure fines they risk.

A "Pullman" Proposal to Help Condo Associations Remove Toxic Owners

Written by Bruce A. Cholst and Mary L. Kosmark on July 10, 2012

New York City

A co-op board can use what's known as a "Pullman proceeding" to evict tenant-shareholders for illicit activity, violation of the cooperative's rules or chronic "objectionable conduct" — all based on the landlord relationship inherent in a proprietary lease.

Appraisals are subjective — how much is a view of Central Park worth? In one case, a woman on the Upper West Side wanted to refinance her one-bedroom co-op. Appraisals by two different banks valued the apartment at $350,000 and $400,000. Her mortgage broker, Jordan Roth of GFI Mortgage, suggested she try a new bank. The third time around, the apartment was valued at $550,000.

The rise in low appraisals began in 2009 after then-New York State Attorney General Andrew Cuomo hashed out a deal with Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to sever a cozy relationship between mortgage brokers and appraisers. Critics of the old system pointed to lax appraisal rules as part of the reason that home values were so woefully inflated.

Hate dealing with secondhand smoke in your co-op or condominium? As an attorney I often hear complaints from co-op board and condo association members about the extra costs incurred as a result of heavy smokers. Staff sweep up cigarette butts day after day, boards hire outside vendors to steam clean upholstery, curtains and area rugs and the windows must be washed more frequently. The problems are even worse if smokers throw cigarette butts off the balconies. 
Costs aside, condo and co-op board members are feeling pressure from residents about secondhand smoke permeating a building, especially where there is a central heating, air conditioning and ventilation (HVAC) system.  In one recent example I learned of a lung cancer survivor that resides next to a heavy smoker — the secondhand smoke presents a very real threat to his welfare.

Last January, Villas on the Bay, a 42-unit condominium in East Moriches, Long Island, switched to Fairfield Properties, a larger property manager than the one it formerly had. The 30-year-old community had capital improvements on the horizon and thought Fairfield could get them better prices.

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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