New York's Cooperative and Condominium Community

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Illegal hoteling is any building's bête noire. But, reports Ronda Kaysen in her her New York Times "Ask Real Estate" column, one Williamsburg, Brooklyn, condo board is doing what other beleaguered boards should and just slapping a fine on miscreant — who, if they want to play the "it's not an illegal rental, it's my friend / cousin" game can then damn well try to pull that crap with a judge in court. Perjury, anyone? Just make sure your bylaws allow you to levy that fine. And besides, when an apartment-owner rents to a short-term tenant in violation of New York State laws and most co-op / condo bylaws, that tenant can be hard for the owner to evict. The same column answers a Carroll Gardens condo-board question about short-term rentals. Who knew Brooklyn was such an epicenter of this?

It happens more often than you might think, and it's a cautionary tale to all boards: Did we actually file the lawsuit we intended to? We think we did.

The two-building, 73-unit Clermont Greene condominium in Fort Greene, Brooklyn, has a seven-member board, with three of those members affiliated with the sponsor, Vanderbilt Mansions. The board, claiming construction defects, building code violations and hazardous conditions, hired Howard L. Zimmerman Architects to investigate. HLZA reported several defects related to inadequate or poor workmanship or designs that failed to meet industry standards.

The board began an action, asserting claims for breach of contract, warranty, and fiduciary duty. There was also a demand for an accounting. The sponsor's claim in response? That the board never authorized the start of the lawsuit at a properly noticed meeting of the board.

Following corruption charges last week by nearly 900 residents of the Brooklyn Mitchell-Lama co-op Lindsay Park Housing, the local Community Board chair and two New York City Council members, the co-op board issued a statement denying those claims. Critics allege the board exploits "general proxies," which don't name a candidate, rather directed proxies, which name a specific candidate, in order to keep board members in power.

According to DNAInfo.com, the board says its election practices are fair and monitored by an independent third party approved by the Department of Housing Preservation and Development, and that the dissident Shareholders for the Betterment of Lindsay Park is "a group of relatively uninformed and disappointed tenant-shareholders, who have not been able to have members of their group elected to the Lindsay Park Board and who oppose needed maintenance increases at Lindsay Park." The board said directed proxies are "restrictive" to the democratic process and that there was "no basis" to "unsubstantiated charges of 'corruption.'"

DNAInfo said the board is is verifying signatures on the group's petition to change the method of proxy voting, and will hire an election company to monitor the special meeting that per the co-op's bylaws must be held within 10 to 40 days of the petition's submission.

With their local Community Board chairperson in agreement and on their side, nearly 900 residents of Brooklyn's Mitchell-Lama Lindsay Park Housing Cooperative (click image to enlarge) are petitioning to change a board election process they say leads to an entrenched board that is secretive, non-responsive and, as 64-year-old Elizabeth Blizinska told DNAInfo.com, "a dictatorship."

The co-op board of the seven-building Williamsburg complex gathers "general proxies" that don't name a candidate, rather than "directed proxies" that do — which the bylaws allow. The corruption comes in, petitioners say, when the longtime board president uses the proxies to re-elect herself and her allies, sometimes after having misled or intimidated immigrant and elderly residents into signing away a vote. CB1 chair Dealice Fuller agrees with the dissidents. Board president Cora Austin has denied knowledge of any petition, said DNAInfo, but the website cited memos Austin sent to residents earlier this month warning them not to sign it.

“It was a big deal, a big undertaking,” says Jay Silverberg, principal in Zenith Properties. He’s not kidding, either: take a 21-member board in a seven-building co-op complex, add a $4 million project to convert 10 boilers in three boiler rooms from No. 6 heating oil to natural gas, factor in Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) involvement because it’s a Mitchell-Lama (subsidized) property, and consider that HPD restrictions prohibit loans – and the undertaking doesn’t just seem big. It seems impossible.

Recent news affecting co-op / condo buyers, sellers, boards and residents. This week, a co-op board takes away a parking space from a little old lady with Parkinson's, saying her car's insurance and registration had lapsed — they hadn't — and that the car didn't run ... so they took away the spot while the car was in the garage to, y'know, run. Doesn't sound like the board's running on all cylinders, either. Same might be said on Fifth Avenue, where a co-op board president who lost a bid for an apartment in her building allegedly decided no one else could buy it, either. Plus, Patrick Stewart makes it so with a condo buy in Brooklyn.

Recent news affecting co-op / condo buyers, sellers, boards and residents. This week, a condominium board sues its developer. a co-op buyer sues a seller, and a co-op shareholder sues his neighbor. Plus, a lawyer sues his clients, whom he'd represented against a co-op board. Ah, springtime in New York!  We've also a co-op board trying to evict an agoraphobic transgender smoker, but hey, that could happen anywhere....

Recent news affecting co-op / condo buyers, sellers, boards and residents. This week, it's co-op shareholders vs. rental tenants at Chelsea's London Terrace over access to a pool. We've also news of a new, retroactive property-tax abatement; the Brighton Beach bathrooms get put on hold; and as Stevie Wonder sang, we're very superstitious, writing's on the wall — just not the wall of the 13th floor. Plus, for boards, co-op taxes are up, and Concourse Village workers are up in arms.

Buyers pay a premium for a co-op or condo apartment with outdoor space. But what happens when a terrace needs repairs that prevent the shareholder or unit-owner from using it?

That was the question in Goldhirsch v. St. George Tower & Grill Owners Corp.

In the early 1980s, the 16-unit co-op at 572 Sterling Place in the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn was an abandoned, derelict shell. Catholic Charities and the parish of St. Theresa of Avila helped secure it a $440,000, 30-year mortgage, and property was incorporated as a co-op under the city's Housing Development Fund Corporation (HDFC). Each unit was valued at just $27,500, and shareholders agreed to contribute sweat equity for 10 percent of that sum, including demolition work and installing flooring, trim, and cabinets.

It was a building designed to be affordable to low- and middle-income New Yorkers. But now some shareholders, delighted by the low price when they bought, are seeing things differently as they go to sell — warping the very affordability the HDFC program fosters.

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