HABITAT

MIDTOWN EAST

The Luxury Condo With Bargain Basement Balconies

Written by Bill Morris on April 11, 2018

Midtown East, Manhattan

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Maybe it's the sudden change in weather, but June's been an… interesting month for some co-op boards in New York. There was the board that asked to interview a potential buyer's child and another board that instituted a policy requiring tenants to submit their pets to DNA tests to screen out undesirable breeds. Then there was yet another board who attempted to conduct its own criminal investigation until the Queens District Attorney's office told it to stand down. Well, hold on to your hats, folks, because yet another board — this one in Midtown East — is allegedly threatening to enforce "living in sin" rules. Nope, we all haven't traveled through time and space to Victorian England. In this week's Ask Real Estate column in The New York Times, a shareholder tells Ronda Kaysen that not only is the co-op threatening to enforce a rule that dates back to "when such arrangements were viewed as scandalous" but also threatening to do so selectively — which is, of course, a big no-no. Kaysen tackles the first issue — the, erm, "living in sin" policy, and says, "Surprisingly, a handful of states still have laws on the books restricting cohabitation. An unmarried couple living together in Florida, for example, could face 60 days in jail and a $500 fine for violating a 19th-century state law." That's good-ole-conservative Florida, but what about New York? Well, according to Thomas P. Higgins, a Manhattan real estate lawyer, a co-op trying to enforce that rule "would be in violation of the state's roommate law, which allows tenants to live with a roommate." Higgins adds that, furthermore, "the battle over same-sex marriage has substantially changed how the courts view an individual's constitutional right to exercise autonomy over personal matters, such as whom he or she chooses to live with." The bottom line is that while a co-op board may earn itself a rotten reputation for demanding you get a DNA test to prove Fido isn't a banned breed in the building, it certainly cannot ever question your relationship with the person who lives with you. "If you decide to move in with your significant other and the co-op gives you any grief, a terse letter to the co-op's lawyer would likely resolve the matter quickly," concludes Kaysen. As for enforcing this or any rule selectively, Higgins says: "Any board foolish enough to threaten to selectively enforce any rule is not getting good legal advice."

Won't somebody please think of the children? That's what one outraged parent wants the city to do after the co-op board at a posh building in Tudor City instructed her to bring her kid along to her interview. In the dog-eat-dog world that is New York City real estate you have potential buyers jumping through the hoops of the admissions process, which, for pet owners, may include taking your pet to the admissions interview so the board can give Fido or Fluffy a once-over. So if you have to let the board scrutinize your dog, is it okay for it to want to screen your kid, too? Joyce Kacin thinks that's just going too far. DNAinfo reports that, according to Kacin, "co-op board members at Woodstock Tower have instructed buyers to bring along their kids to interviews that determine whether they get apartments" — calling it a first for the city. According to the report, Kacin sent a complaint about it last year to state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and Mayor Bill de Blasio, "claiming the co-op board made the unusual request to her — and that it was discriminatory." Kacin argued that asking parents to bring their children along to an admissions interview violates the city's Human Rights Law, "which makes it illegal to reject a purchaser for having a kid." It looks like things ended well for Kacin, who apparently buried the hatchet with the board president once it dropped its request to meet the kid after receiving a letter from Kacin explaining why she did not want to bring him along. While Kacin raises some valid issues, is it really that unusual for a board to want to meet a prospective buyer's child or children in person? DNAinfo says that most of the real estate experts it spoke to about Kacin's situation called the Woodstock board’s request to meet her child unique. One of them, however, said otherwise. Real estate law expert Adam Leitman Bailey told the publication that "the board was legally allowed to interview children, so long as the parents accompany the child and it doesn’t reject the potential buyer solely on the basis of having a kid" under New York law. Bailey points out that this is, after all, the city where five year olds "are interviewed to get into kindergarten."

It often starts with a leak or an on-again-off-again boiler or a high energy bill. In short, the process starts with a problem requiring extensive repairs or replacement. And that can be a major challenge itself. In fact, the amount of money, time, coordination, and risk in a major capital improvement program can stop many a brave board from proceeding. Or at least slow them down. And the larger the co-op or condo, the more complex the challenges. There are bid specifications to be written and then analyzed, contractors to be vetted and chosen, and expensive contracts to sign. Once that is done, there are the logistics to work out: sometimes equipment has to be built on the spot, and other times there are difficulties just getting it through the door, transporting it into the basement, or moving it up to the roof. Then, there is the question of access and scheduling: various contractors have to be worked into the overall timetable, residents usually have to be relocated while work is being done, and, of course, they have to agree to let workers into their apartments. 

Designed by architects at Philip Birnbaum & Associates and built in 1968, Plaza 400 — a 591-unit building on East 56th Street — was originally a rental and became a co-op during the conversion boom of the 1980s. It is self-managed, with a 24-hour doorman and concierge, as well as a seasonal rooftop heated pool, a common sundeck with views of the Manhattan skyline, a skytop lounge, and a fitness center. There is also a children's playroom, a bike room, and a 24-hour attended parking garage.

Plaza 400 board successfully completed not one but three capital improvement projects. The building is a textbook case of the steps a board needs to take when doing major overhauls to a building's infrastructure.

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