New York's Cooperative and Condominium Community

Habitat Magazine Business of Management 2021




Here's a story that may potentially stoke the ire of some New Yorkers boil. It looks like U.S. taxpayers will be footing a $1.5 million bill for a luxury condo in Chelsea. Wait for it… Made of wood. According to DNAinfo, if the Department of Buildings approves the construction plans, a 10-story building made mostly of wood could rise at 475 West 18th Street. The development "won a $1.5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Softwood Lumber Board for research into how to work with engineered wood for construction, according to a department announcement," DNAinfo reported. You know New York has changed when developers are building things made out of wood on purpose. Designed by the SHoP, who also worked on the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, the 120-foot wooden structure will be located across the street from the High Line. It will have commercial space on the ground floor (hope it's not a restaurant) and will have 15 two-, three- and four-bedroom apartments.

Photo of wooden high rise by SHoP

When you live in a crowded city like New York where space is at a premium, you have to be a little creative. Take, for instance, the condo heading to West Chelsea. YIMBY got an updated look at the cantilevering project that will rise at 251 West 14th Street. Designed by ODA and developed by B+B Capital, "the structure will be relatively small, and the assemblage allows for a building measuring 24,000 square feet. Condominiums are currently envisioned, with 11 floor-through units planned," reports YIMBY, adding: "Cantilevers are becoming typical among the larger towers in New York City, but their application when it comes to smaller-scale construction is significantly more limited." Hey, it may not be the ideal choice for someone with vertigo, but it sure does look cool.

Rendering of 251 West 14th Street by ODA

As the general manager of the 2,820-unit Chelsea cooperative called Penn South, Brendan Keany is in charge of a massive $145 million undertaking that began in 2011 and will be finishing later this year: the replacement of the worn-out heating, ventilating, and air-cooling pipes that are wrapped in asbestos and buried behind every apartment's plaster walls. It has meant gaining access to every shareholder's apartment. That's more than knocking on the door or making an appointment. It has involved conducting a preliminary inspection of all the apartments to see what condition they were in and examining the walls that hid the pipes to estimate how big an opening had to be made. It has meant finding a place for some of the elderly residents to stay when work was to be performed in their units. It has meant dealing with no air-conditioning for some shareholders on blistering hot days. It has involved dealing with the debris collected by hoarders.

In short, a nightmare. 

You know when you're on the subway and the train stops in the tunnel and ten minutes later steam starts coming out of your ears because it looks like you will all be languishing there indefinitely? Sometimes it's the lack of information that ticks us off. Sure, the conductor "communicates" with the straphangers, saying there are delays (no duh) or that there's train traffic ahead (yeah, okay), but maybe we'd be a little more patient and sympathetic if we had actual facts. That's not always possible on the subway, especially if someone's been hurt and police are on the scene investigating. But the concept applies in all walks of life. People lose their patience faster when they feel like they are being kept in the dark — including those in co-ops and condos. That's what seems to be happening at one co-op in Chelsea.

Supermodel Linda Evangelista, fashion designer David Neville, and other penthouse owners on the top floor of the Spears Building at 525 West 22nd Street are crying foul after getting stuck footing the $1.5 million bill to replace the roof of their posh Chelsea condo. The group filed a lawsuit Monday in Manhattan Supreme Court, reports the Daily News, alleging that "the board intends to violate the condominium's bylaws by socking them with the entire seven-figure cost." Evangelista and company contend that the owners of all 30 units should pay. They're all in this together, after all. The Daily News cites court papers where the group's lawyer, Bryan Kirshner, said that "in 2011 the board got a legal opinion that a total replacement was the responsibility of the entire building while only those with private terraces on the sixth-floor rooftop have to pay for routine maintenance." Kirshner adds that the board then changed its mind: rather than replace the roof it would institute an "aggressive maintenance program." As of last month, however, the board went back to its original plan of replacing the roof, but charging the entire cost, plus financing, to the penthouse owners. The embattled group aims to block the formal vote on the proposal scheduled for Thursday night and the board from getting any financing until the penthouse owners can litigate the issue of who's paying for it.

Photo by Christopher Bride for Property Shark.

New York State is not kidding around when it comes to clean air. Neither is New York City. The real estate on which smokers can light up has been steadily shrinking in the last few years. That doesn't stop some of them from lighting up anyway. Take the patrons of a restaurant in Chelsea, located adjacent to a co-op building. They frequent the restaurant's small outdoor space, which is not used for seating, to smoke, says one of the co-op's tenants to Ronda Kaysen in the latest "Ask Real Estate" column in The New York Times. And — you guessed it — the smoke seeps into the co-op’s public foyer. The co-op tenant asks whether there any regulations in place for restaurants and bars that require smokers to stand a certain distance from the building. You bet there are. Kaysen explains that the restaurant next door (take note, bars and other public establishments) is supposed to make sure patrons smoke only in the designated areas — and those areas are very much regulated by both city and state smoking laws. "The State Liquor Authority, which grants and denies liquor licenses, could enforce smoking rules and strip the restaurant of its liquor license for failing to rein in its customers," says Kaysen. She recommends that the co-op or its managing agent file a "complaint with the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene" as well as "with the State Liquor Authority." So if you're tired of smoke getting in your apartment, there's hope that you can stub out those cigarettes for good. 


John Devall, a managing agent and account executive at Orsid Realty, remembers it well: "There was a lot of discussion — a lot of discussion. Rand, the engineering firm, attended one meeting, and presented all the pros and cons, and we talked about the numbers. Then at that meeting, the board still wasn't decided. It was a tough decision."

The debate Devall remembers was at Kensington House, the 195-unit co-op at 200 West 20th Street. Built in 1937, the Art Deco building, now populated mostly by young professionals, had seen better days. The main problem was a continuous string of leaks over the years, which, admits Devall, baffled the manager and the seven-member board. "We had performed some inspections and we couldn't quite figure out where the problem was," Devall recalls. "We had been doing interior repairs the entire time."

For two years, a group of service workers from the Marais at 520 W. 23rd St. has been trying to join the 32BJ Service Employees International Union (SEIU). Standing in their way is the building's five-member board. It has refused unionization, and has not replied to communications from union representatives, reports Chelsea Now. According to the story, 80 out of 107 residents signed a petition asking the board to allow the workers to join the union, but the board hasn't budged, not even to negotiate.

One resident, Community Board 4 member Lowell Kern, decided to tell the service workers' story with an exhibition of photos and video that documents their two-year ordeal. Called "Beneath the Rails: Working Under the High Line," it took place in Kern's apartment. State Senator Brad Hoylman, State Assemblymember Richard Gottfried and City Councilmember Corey Johnson attended the exhibit's opening on Tuesday, Nov. 18. Also in attendance were 32BJ President Hector Figeuroa and 15 union members. At stake are a livable wage, comprehensive health insurance and a pension — non-union service workers who guard the doors and maintain the building reportedly get paid as little as $13 an hour, compared to the $21 an hour unionized workers receive, and are not offered the comprehensive health insurance and pension of their unionized counterparts.

The Habitat Management Survey: A Case of Good Financial Administration

Written by Lori Buchbinder. The latest in a series of exclusive Habitat Management Survey responses. on September 08, 2014

Chelsea, Manhattan

When the existing board at a 60-unit Chelsea building came into my office a little more than five years ago, the condominium had $20,000 in reserves and had completely drawn down a $150,000 line of credit that had been used to finance an electrical upgrade. Full payment of the line was due within the year. The new board immediately focused on how it could continue upgrades while minimizing the impact on unit-owners and still meet the condominium's financial obligations.

The latest dilemma for co-op board president Prem Lachman, of the 67-unit Lion's Head Condominium in Chelsea, is one to which any board member can relate: How do you perform required capital repairs with the least amount of financial pain for residents?

This is what confronted Wall Street hedge fund manager Lachman when Merlot Management president Beth Markowitz, the condo's property manager, delivered some bad news from Rand Engineering and Architecture's Local Law 11 report. The front and back façades needed immediate repair, penthouse additions to the roof required the removal of a stucco-like substance that was possibly causing leaks and a new roof had to be installed. Total cost: $1.25 million.

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