New York's Cooperative and Condominium Community

HABITAT

MANHATTAN

Recent news affecting co-op / condo buyers, sellers, boards and residents. This week,it's a nail-biter as New York City and New York State play chicken over the technically expired property-tax abatement for co-ops and condos. Plus, private playgrounds are the hot new kid-friendly amenity and Alec Baldwin's new wife buys a condo ... right next to her husband's. Is that like his-and-her towels? For condo and co-op boards, we've no less than The New York Times says sic 'em when it comes to condo arrears. And here's how you break up with the nice, friendly volunteer who's not so great at the job.

Recent news affecting co-op / condo buyers, sellers, boards and residents. This week, Mayor Bloomberg proposes a residential smoking ban. Or does he? Plus, a tree may grow in Brooklyn but a co-op's just sprouted in the ever-burgeoning Bronx; the highest-priced New York City co-op ever gets sold; and what could be the second-priciest condo gets put on the market. Good thing Co-op City is staying affordable. And we wonder what Jennifer Aniston's combined co-op apartments will sell for now that she's moving (or moving in) elsewhere.

A monthly column by HABITAT's editorial director.

Let's call the super Pete, and the only other thing I'll tell you about him is that he's honest, hardworking, and knowledgeable. Oh, yes, and I've known him for 25 years. When he complains about something, it isn't idle talk.

At this moment, he was pretty incensed: "This guy," he said, referring to another super he knew, "shouldn't have gotten that job."

Certainly, 55 Liberty Street is a beautiful building – the base of the roof on the 28th floor is adorned with a menagerie of massive masonry eagles, lions, alligators, fish, gnomes, and assorted flora – but that beauty can quickly turn deadly. That was the case in 1993 when chunks of terra cotta broke loose from the skin of the 32-story, 80-unit co-op and plunged to the crowded sidewalk below.

Designed by Henry Ives Cobb, the free-standing terra-cotta structure was the tallest building in the world when it opened its doors in 1909. It served as offices for Sinclair Oil and other businesses until 1979, when it was converted to residential living. Two years later, it became a co-op. Now it is dealing with capital challenges, safety, and the ever-present memory of the past.

Recent news affecting co-op / condo buyers, sellers, boards and residents. This week, an Afghan War vet says his Shih Tzu helps his PTSD; co-op wonders otherwise; a condo board loses over phantom cigarette smoke; and while one co-op hopes a new commercial tenant finally takes, another backs down on tacky chains. Plus, Chloë Sevigny has no big love for her co-op anymore. And for condo / co-op boards, we've the latest on green roofs and on e-mailing notices.

Recent news affecting co-op / condo buyers, sellers, boards and residents. This week, NY1's Pat Kiernan isn't just a new anchor — he's also board president of a co-op that kept an unwanted building from going up next door. Now that's board clout. Plus: What do you with a nymphomaniac? No, no, if you don't want one around. We've also the latest new-construction woes and apartment sales-market reports. And while it involves a rental building and not a co-op or condo, you'll want to read about a near-tragedy because of a window air conditioner that fell 20 stories.

Thirty-one years ago, they expected it to sell out quickly. And why not? The 33 units for sale at the newly constructed 1474 Third Avenue, between 83rd and 84th Streets, didn't face the sort of restrictions co-ops impose. And in 1981, cooperatives dominated and condominiums were a New York City rarity.

The 17-story property, which replaced a one-story movie theater, was marketed as something special. Each floor housed only two apartments; amenities included hardwood parquet floors, bathrooms with marble tiling, acoustically sprayed ceilings and video intercoms. The building itself offered some degree of privacy from hustle and bustle: In an architectural style of the time, it was situated not on the street but inside a plaza. The common charges were low and units were listed at the outset at $259,000 to $484,000.

Then, nothing.

The River Arts cooperative in Manhattan's Washington Heights has saved $15,000 a year in electricity costs since installing rooftop solar panels two years ago — an installation  partly funded by government incentives. River Arts financed the $418,000 project with a federal tax credit, a grant from the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA), and a city property tax abatement. In all, the credits and grants reduced their final bill to $34,560. Initially, the board estimated it would take eight to ten years to pay back the investment. Instead, it took only three.

Nevertheless, River Arts' costs have gone up by 15 percent because of rising property taxes and skyrocketing fuel costs. Property taxes cost the complex $1 million in 2012, up from $300,000 in 2005. In 2015, when the city phases out No. 6 oil, the co-op will have to use a cleaner, but costlier, fuel.

The co-op has taken many steps to lower costs. When it replaced the lighting in the communal areas with energy-efficient fixtures, it took advantage of a $15,000 NYSERDA grant that brought the price down from $51,000 to $36,000. It took the co-op two years to pay.

As spotlighted in N.Y. Habitat’s "Silhouette" column in June 1982, the cooperative at 22 West 26th Street was billed as "one of Midtown's last and best loft conversions," with open-plan apartments and views of the Empire State Building and the World Trade Center. Less than 50 percent of the industrial buildings on the block at the time had been converted to residential use, and local zoning preserved much of the gritty feel that drew buyers to New York City's Flatiron District.

All too often, when co-op / condo boards and other buildings owners decide to go green, the first thing they want to do is install solar panels. But it doesn't matter how many solar panels are on a roof if the electricity they generate is wasted somewhere else in a building. Which makes more sense? Spending thousands of dollars on solar panels to keep lights on 24 hours a day, or having a green super implement strategies for efficient lighting and lighting controls?

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