New York's Cooperative and Condominium Community

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Today Habitat introduces "Teachable Moments," an occasional feature in which leading management professionals offer quick takes on various topics of interest to co-op and condo board members. In the first of this series, four industry veterans give mini-lessons on how to find creative solutions to problems that resist the usual approaches.

Recent news affecting co-op / condo buyers, sellers, boards and residents. This week, for some reason, we're big on board-specific news: boards suing developers and residents, a board president squeezing "donations" from building vendors for a political bid and a board turning amateur cop and firing employees it suspects of thievery — hindering the investigation by actual cops. A George ZImmerman board, as it were. Plus, exclusive co-ops learn to compete for buyers and an alleged illegal hotelier has people arrested who complain! Man, late August is crazy!

Board Service: Jo Anna Isaak and Dan O'Connell on a Co-op's Tree Removal

Written by Jo Anna Isaak and Dan O'Connell, President and Shareholder, 329 W. 21st Street, Manhattan. One in an occasional series of real-life stories by board members about serving on co-op and condo boards. on August 18, 2011

329 W. 21st Street, Chelsea, Manhattan

When we purchased our small co-op apartment in Chelsea more than 20 years ago, the biggest appeal to us was the deck and garden area that came with it. Hidden behind the main 10-unit building, the dominant feature of the small courtyard was a large, old ailanthus tree. It attracted rare and unusual birds, resting on their migratory paths. It gave us shade in the summer and leaves to sweep in the fall. Its only downside, we thought, was that we had to scoot around its massive, elephantine trunk when bringing food from the building to our outside dining table.

For 20 years, we enjoyed our tree. Then, one day last winter, we noticed something peculiar: The tree's roots were breaking through the ground, coming up and pulling our wooden deck up with them.

Recent news affecting co-op / condo buyers, sellers, boards and residents. This week, if you look into the windows of people's homes, you're a peeping Tom ... unless you take photographs and put them up for sale. Then it's legal to spy on people because, hey, it's art! So ruled Judge Eileen Rakower after Tribeca  parents sued a voyeuristic creep — the New York Post's word — who shot pictures of their kids and sold them for up to $10,000 each (without paying or even getting a release form from the unwary models.) Homeowners beware.

We've also a lawsuit between condo-owners over what they say is their building's overpriced gym, a reminder that clothes make the doorman, and did you know that New York City apartments aren't considered "luxury" until they cost $3 million? Plus, for condo and co-ops boards, tips on noisy neighbors and meeting minutes.

Recent news affecting co-op / condo buyers, sellers, boards and residents. This week, there's no bigger news for boards than of the legislative mess in Albany that will send co-op and condo property taxes sky-high unless Gov. Cuomo and company take action. On the Upper East Side, a co-op board sues a sponsor that won't let go even after 24 years, a doorman charges a management company with allowing racist rants, there's power from the sun in Sunset Park and much more.

Recent news affecting co-op / condo buyers, sellers, boards and residents. Quite the tabloid week this week, as police tell more about the Penn South embezzlement, as international money-laundering sends a Chelsea condominium apartment into auction, and as a suspect is arrested in a Co-op City killing. Plus, a bathroom may block views, a "maintenance-free" co-op and are Manhattan apartment prices up or down?

Recent news affecting co-op / condo buyers, sellers, boards and residents. This week, police name an accomplice in the Penn South co-op embezzlement, and one Financial District condo board gets sued over cell-phone antennas while another hopes Denny's won't grand-slam into their luxury building. In other lawsuit news, a Murray Hill co-op board misses a deadline in a discrimination lawsuit. Note to self: Don't hire that lawyer. Plus, see how all the changes in the co-op / condo tax abatement play out with LLCs and trusts — trust us, you want to know. And Bruce Willis buys hard on the Upper West Side.

Recent news affecting co-op / condo buyers, sellers, boards and residents. This week, Penn South goes south, and $190,000 went with it. Plus, New York officials want banks to release insurance money that's due superstorm Sandy victims, a co-op has constant drunken revelers in its garden, and does monthly maintenance ever decrease?  And for condo and co-op boards, what do you do with a dog that bites? What about if the owner is a little old man?

For E. Cooke Rand, a co-op board member at a 48-year-old white-brick building on East 84th Street, his board's initial decision to install a gym "was made conditionally, to explore the idea — what would be entailed, what all the equipment would be. We had a subcommittee of the board, three people, who did the bulk of the work and kept reporting to us — doing all this exploration to see what it could cost and whether the space was suitable. The process wasn't getting together one night, making a decision, and turning it over. We consulted through the managing agent and directly with knowledgeable architects."

An onsite gym has become standard in virtually all new developments, and many older buildings are retrofitting to include them. In two past articles we've looked at how real estate professionals value them, and at the standard steps co-op and condo boards take to make the decision and to make it a reality. Now we look at the final piece: security and insurance.

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