New York's Cooperative and Condominium Community

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In February, a 105-unit condominium near Ocean Parkway in Brooklyn saw its insurance premium spike by 30 percent to $44,000. A 148-unit condo on the Upper East Side of Manhattan watched its bill jump 10 percent, to nearly $72,000. And a doorman co-op in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn, recently swallowed a 9 percent premium increase. Condos and co-ops across New York City are bracing for an expensive insurance market, as insurers raise rates for the first time in years.

No building seems immune. Even co-ops and condos that are fully insured and haven't filed claims are watching their rates jump by as much as 9 percent and their deductible limits rising. Other buildings are discovering that their carrier simply won't cover them anymore.

In a previous article today, attorney Arthur Weinstein explained how some seemingly innocent co-op board admissions-interview questions could backfire into charges of discrimination. This doesn't mean boards are helpless to make inquiries involving smoking, loud music, expectations of amenities and other  quality-of-life issues. Here are five ready-made questions Weinstein suggests to help admissions-committee members safely navigate the shoals of co-op community-building.

You're on your co-op board's admissions committee, asking questions of a prospective purchaser. But be warned: Admissions interview questions can be like sticks of dynamite, waiting to explode in your face. "There are New York State, New York City and federal laws against various types of discrimination that could be quite fatal for a co-op board of directors," explains attorney Arthur Weinstein. "There are 16 kinds of discrimination that the laws describe, and it is very easy for a board to get into a discussion with a prospective shareholder where the board will learn that the candidate falls within one of the protective categories and now the board could be accused of discrimination if the candidate is rejected."

A reader writes: Our condominium is confronting several large repair projects. We are evenly divided between those who favor assessments to fund the individual projects as we do them and those who want to borrow enough money up front to pay for them all. Who's right?

This question concern the role of debt. Taking away our individual emotional and cultural concerns — some people abhor debt, others find ways to use it —  the strictly financial approach compares the cost of the money being borrowed to the value or benefit derived from the loan. 

A reader writes: Our co-op's underlying mortgage is coming due this summer. Our treasurer says that we should pay it off instead of refinancing because "every apartment in the building will jump in value once we get rid of our mortgage." According to him, our reserve fund plus a "small" assessment would be enough to pay it off. Should we do it?

It may be scant comfort to know that almost all small co-ops encounter this problem. One reason comes from the lender's perspective. It takes the same amount of work, and sometimes more, to do a small loan as it does to do a big one. As loan size drops, it begins to make no economic sense to do a deal. This is especially true for large lenders.

True story: Shareholders at one Manhattan co-op voted down a referendum that would have required them to buy homeowner insurance. Then one day some water pipes burst, the building's insurance didn't cover all the damage, and the board had to issue an assessment to make up the difference. Shareholders who had homeowners insurance got reimbursed by their insurance companies for the assessment amount. Those without had to pay out of pocket. And the next time the board tried to require homeowner insurance — the shareholders voted it down again!

Guess you can't insure against shortsightedness. That notwithstanding, condo and co-op boards still may want to mandate that unit-owners and shareholders carry insurance, as many buildings already require. But how?

A New York City Department of Finance letter erroneously informing co-op and condo owners they are ineligible for the renewed tax abatement has caused consternation and confusion. The letter, meant to be directed only to non-resident owners of co-op and apartments, instead included what one source calls tens of thousands of eligible residents.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo on Feb. 1 officially renewed the belated the co-op / condo tax abatement that residential cooperatives and condominiums have relied on since 1997 to help equalize the tax burden between them and single-family homes. Yay. In the hoopla, however, a little-notice April 1 deadline might get missed. That's the due date to submit the application form for any new co-op and condo development filing for the abatement for the first time. And an additional caution: That fast-closing window is for not only for the current tax year but for the upcoming one as well.

Can condo and co-op boards and managers be too cost-conscious? This inquiry came to mind when Habitat received an e-mail from board member Regina Warren, who was questioning a financial arrangement her building had with an attorney. Was it an expense the board needed to incur? Specifically, were the fees paid to tax certiorari lawyers who annually challenge a building's tax assessment a necessary expense? And were they fair?

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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