New York's Cooperative and Condominium Community



A co-op board’s ingenious way of putting a lid on sublets.

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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.

You've probably heard of crowd-funding, especially if you're on Facebook or any similar social media. It's a way for people to solicit funds for any number of projects via a crowd-funding platform. So, if you're a musician who doesn't have a powerful label backing you, you might use a crowd-funding platform to raise money for your next album. A craftsperson might use it to try to get his or her first business off the ground. Many people even use crowd-funding for charitable efforts or to try to offset medical expenses. Well, hold onto your hats, folks, because New York City's first crowd-funded condo project is about to hit the market. According to the New York Daily News, the project was "partially financed by investors who chipped in as little as $50,000 for a share." With apartment prices starting at $1.2 million, says the Daily News, "for once, the profits from the sale of pricey condos won't only enrich the developer." That's something. The project is a joint venture between crowd-funding platform The Prodigy Network and corporate apartment provider Korman Communities. The team "raised more than 10% of its equity from small-time investors to acquire and renovate the building. [And] those investors will catch their fiscal windfall when the building's condos sell out — and stand to make the 15% return that would normally line the developer's pocket." Not too shabby. The condos, located at 234 East 46th Street between Second and Third avenues, are all one-bedroom units and will very likely get snapped up by United Nations delegates. After all, nobody can resist a nice digs and an easy commute.

Photo by Prodigy Network

Ever wish you could live in the Waldorf Astoria? Well, your wish may come true, but you better prepare to have more than just a whole lot of money. The Real Deal (TRD) has learned that Anbang Insurance Group, which just paid almost $2 billion for the Waldorf, plans to convert the iconic hotel's two towers into condos. TRD obtained a transcript of a recent talk Anbang's chairman Wu Xiaohui gave at Harvard University. "We plan to renovate the two towers into luxury residential apartments with world-class amenities and finishes to reflect its culture and social status. A potential buyer needs to have more than money to qualify for our apartments," he said. How intriguing. What could it be? Celebrity? Clout? Lots of property? The Waldorf Towers operates as a 181-room boutique hotel within the Waldorf, and currently occupies the top floors of the 47-story building. It has a separate entrance on 50th Street, amenities include a fitness center, and it's just a hop, skip, and a taxi from Midtown's ultra-luxury billionaires' row. 

Photo by Christopher Bride for Property Shark

What happens when a developer that plans to build a high-rise condo needs access to the neighboring condo to do prep work and is refused entry? They sue, of course. DNAinfo reports that developer Erik Ekstein needs to "demolish the five-story Madison Avenue Baptist Church at 30 E. 31st Street, but the neighboring condo building, M127, has refused to let workers inside." The developer filed a lawsuit on January 13 in New York Supreme Court against M127 for delaying work. According to the report, M127's managing board denied the developer access to its roof, side yard, and backyard so it can install temporary crack and vibration monitors and waterproofing, along with scaffolding. DNAinfo adds that a member of M127's managing board declined to comment. It's, therefore, not clear what motivated the board to refuse the developer access to its building, but it's potentially made a costly mistake. A lawsuit means time and money wasted. Existing condo (and co-op) boards should take note and not make the same mistake. It's only a matter of time before a developer begins building a new condo right next door — especially given all the construction anticipated this year.  

The building was just known as 209 East 56th Street in 1989 when Mark Greenberg Real Estate (MGRE) was hired as manager; it wasn’t until years later, when the board decided that a building name would help sales, that the co-op was rechristened The Sterling. The name’s greatest significance was in how it was devised: The board involved every shareholder, using a survey to choose a name.

That’s not unusual for the hands-on board, whose members believe in the personal touch. In 1991, the 107-unit property between Second and Third Avenues, was managed by a large firm that was “nickel-and-diming us, and that would drive me crazy,” says Mary Ann Savarese, who first served as the head of the tenants’ group and continued on as the president, a post she still holds. “We needed a change.”

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