New York's Cooperative and Condominium Community

Habitat Magazine June 2020 free digital issue

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Even though leaks can be pervasive and costly, savvy condo and co-op boards can get something for nothing. "It's a no-brainer," says Steve Greenbaum, director of property management for Mark Greenberg Real Estate. When MGRE managed Clinton Hill, a 1,200-unit, 12-building complex in Brooklyn, the co-op conducted a water survey. (Clinton Hill is currently managed by AKAM Associates.)

Greenbaum is talking about a long-running but not heavily promoted program simply called the Residential Water Survey. Sponsored by the New York City Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), it began in 1991 when the state was looking for ways to conserve water and now exists as one of the best (if not the best) un-promoted programs that can save your property money.

A precedent-setting decision by New York State's highest court eases privatization of Mitchell-Lama co-ops and similar affordable housing by affirming there is no sales tax on the process. 

The Court of Appeals ruled unanimously Wednesday that Trump Village Section 3 — which left the Mitchell-Lama program of limited-equity co-ops to become a private corporation in 2007 — is not subject to New York City's Real Property Transfer Tax, normally levied on the sale or other transfer of property.

You're a tenant in a rent-stabilized building. You love your apartment. But the building's owner is making noise about wanting to sell. Your first instinct may be to rally all the tenants to see if they are willing and able to join forces, buy the building, and convert it to a co-op or condo. That's what one tenant in a rent-stabilized building in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, would like to do. And the latest "Ask Real Estate" column in The New York Times explains that although, in theory, it's a possibility, in practice, such plans ever really come to fruition. Still, it's not a pipe dream, says the Times column, offering nuggets of advice that includes forming a tenants' association and hiring a lawyer to guide them through the conversion process if the landlord takes a shining to the idea. And if there are enough tenants willing to put their money where there mouth is, who knows? We might see the birth of a co-op or condo.

In July 2013, a full nine months after superstorm Sandy devastated Brooklyn's Shore Gardens co-op, management still had not repaired and remediated enough to allow all lower-floor residents to return. And now, more than two years after the flooding that drove many shareholders out of their homes, Shore Gardens Realty has made few or no renovations to the common areas and some apartments, as shareholder Natasha Brown tells NY1 News in disgusting detail. (See the video, if you're a Time-Warner subscriber.) Along with mold and off-limits laundry rooms, there's parking-lot damage that allows flooding from a nearby creek. But as Natalie Cole, another shareholder, says, "Calls to the management company go unanswered" — a fact reporter Susan Jhun found out for herself. There's really no excuse for that, let alone for letting repairs linger this long.

You can't fight City Hall, but you can laugh at its jokes. "We're telling landlords who are playing games, 'Hey the heat is on,'" says Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, referring to Heat Seek NYC — a pilot program that installs a digital thermometer in apartments and sends temperature readings to a central computer. Tenants and public advocates then can access that data to see if landlords aren't providing the legally required minimum of heat. The data can also let landlords knows if they're overheating apartments, wasting money and energy. Right now the program is confined to Brooklyn, with participants including the Carroll Gardens Association and Bedford-Stuyvesant's Bridge Street Development, reports Crain's New York Business.

Cooperatives fall under rental regulations regarding heat, so the device would be of benefit both in terms of shareholder comfort and board energy-management. It similarly would be of benefit to condominiums — although in one of those quirks of law, condo boards actually are not required to provide adequate heat. (See the second item here.)

On the Money: A Brooklyn Co-op Saves Money Through Quick Action

Written by Jonathan Leaf. The first of a new biweekly column on board finances. on October 21, 2014

University Towers, 191 Willoughby Street, Fort Greene

"It's the lowest interest rate I've ever seen for 10-year money to a co-op." That was the reaction of Jordan Muchnick to the mortgage refinancing arranged last year with Morgan Stanley for University Towers at 191 Willoughby Street, in or on the edge of Brooklyn's Fort Greene neighborhood.

One might not think Muchnick, being a vice president for lending at the property-management giant FirstService Residential, is totally objective — at least not until one hears the rate: 3.21%. That figure was made even more attractive as the loan amortizes not on a 30-year schedule but 23. Consequently, the co-op saw the benefits in refinancing with more than three years left on its old 10-year mortgage.

Dean Starkman, a board member of a 12-unit Brooklyn Heights co-op. negotiated with a lender to refinance the mortgage on his apartment, a fairly routine affair. He had assembled all the required paperwork and, he recalls, "the last piece of the puzzle was our certificate of good standing as a corporation." At that point, the lender informed Starkman it was putting a hold on the deal because the co-op's corporate status had been revoked. How could that be?

The Newswalk condominium has had its own private slice of hell for a decade now. Involved in a protracted lawsuit for several years, the 153 unit-owners could be pardoned if they all decided to stay home and hide from the world. The legal battle concerns shoddy construction work by the property’s developer, Shaya Boymelgreen, who began selling apartments there in 2002. Because of excessive leaks, some units became practically unlivable. As Habitat reported in June 2010, the renovation of this aging, former Daily News printing plant in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn, was so stunningly sloppy that the unit-owners filed a lawsuit seeking at least $10 million in damages. (A decision in the case is pending.)

The average price of an apartment in certain Brooklyn neighborhoods is now higher than that of Manhattan co-ops and condos, according to a StreetEasy study cited by Crain's New York Business. While the magazine notes the "obvious caveat" of comparing neighborhoods with an entire borough — where apartments in Inwood and other upper-Manhattan locales sell for far less than in such luxury area as Central Park South or Tribeca — at least two Brooklyn spots blow Manhattan's $890,000 median out of the water: DUMBO (Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Underpass), at $1.5 million, and the Columbia Street waterfront, running through Cobble Hill and Carroll Gardens, at $1.147 million. DUMBO, in fact, averaged less than just a half-dozen Manhattan nabes. On the bright side, Kensington is still very affordable.

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?

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