New York's Cooperative and Condominium Community

HABITAT

CHELSEA

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.

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.

Lower Manhattan’s iconic Woolworth Building is poised to break a price record: Developer Alchemy Properties is listing the penthouse apartment, a mammoth nine-story unit, at $110 million, according to Bloomberg Businessweek. The previous record-holder in that general area was the penthouse at the Walker Tower in Chelsea, which sold for $50.9 million in January.

Because the price for the Woolworth penthouse is only on the offering plan as of now, it’s difficult to predict whether it will actually sell for that or what the taxes might be on such an expensive condominium unit. Eric Weiss, a tax attorney and partner at the law firm of Tuchman, Korngold, Weiss, Liebman & Gelles, says even making an educated guess at the taxes is difficult because according to New York State tax law, the amount is based on not the apartment's market price but on its theoretical, "comparable" rental value. “The problem is there really isn't a rental market for that [kind of unit],” he says. Since the annual property-tax bill on the Walker Tower penthouse is nearly $49,000, he notes, it’s easy to imagine the Woolworth Building taxes breaking at least six figures.

A Chelsea condominium designed by world-renowned architect Jean Nouvel is facing blowback from residents over a whopping $8 million assessment — put in place, they say, to make up for shoddy workmanship. The New York Post is reporting that at least one resident of 100 11th Avenue has since put her unit on the market, and that one 65-year-old retiree has been socked with a $120,000 bill. Nouvel, for his part, has criticized developer Cape Advisors, which controls the board, saying in 2010 that the firm went "off course" because it wanted to "complete the building as inexpensively as possible."

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