New York's Cooperative and Condominium Community

Habitat Magazine Business of Management 2021

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A couple in Midtown owns a studio apartment in a prewar co-op. They use it as a pied-à-terre, but are considering buying the one-bedroom next door to expand their space. Thanks to an elevator shaft, the two apartments cannot be combined. "This does not trouble us because the apartments are the only two on the floor," the couple tells Ronda Kaysen in this week's Ask Real Estate column in The New York Times. "Since we will not need two kitchens, we would like to remove the kitchen from the one-bedroom, enlarging that unit’s living room, and just use the studio’s kitchen. Do any laws or regulations require an apartment to have a kitchen?" That's a very good question, and one that highlights why potential buyers should check out Co-op/Condo Buyers corner where you can find tips on buying an apartment in the city. In this case, the couple will be getting a lesson not only in the types of renovations that are not allowed because of building codes but also the importance of alteration agreements. Kaysen explains that "the city requires all apartments to have [a kitchen]. So unless you combined the units, the Department of Buildings would never sign off on [the couple's] plan." It's also a matter of perspective. When we buy an apartment it's very easy to think, well, it's mine and I want to make this change. Why shouldn't I be able to? But when you purchase into a co-op, it's not just about your home, but also about the entire building's well-being. Kaysen points out that such a "modification would diminish the value of the apartment, so if you were to foreclose, the building would be left trying to sell an apartment that might be worth less than in its current form…. But remember, whatever you do, one day you may want to sell that apartment and you would be hard-pressed to find a buyer who does not want a kitchen." 

Right now, seven new mega towers are rising along Billionaires' Row, with five more in the works. Community Board 5's Sunshine Task Force says that's quite enough, thanks. The group, reports DNAinfo, is calling for a moratorium on new towers taller than 600 feet along the 57th Street corridor. According to Layla Law-Gisiko, the task force chair, "current zoning rules have not caught up with the supertall towers, which are newly possible because of technological advances." Law-Gisiko told DNAinfo that the task force is not interested in waging a war against development, but rather ensure "good, comprehensive zoning and planning." There are also other concerning issues that need to be addressed, the task force says, including access to air and sunlight, the manner in which these towers affect infrastructure, construction dangers, and tax loopholes that allow "owners to pay lower property taxes." The board also "wants condos registered under the names of actual people, rather than limited liability corporations [as well as] a pied-a-tierre tax to avoid the apartments becoming investment properties for owners who don't live there." Is this it for the shiny, glass mega towers? 

Construction at the megatower on Billionaires' Row may almost be finished, but it has stopped for the third time in less than a year. According to the Daily News, the Department of Buildings (DOB) halted construction at One57 after "a four by four-foot piece of Plexiglass fell from the 22nd floor of a glitzy new tower at 157 W. 57th St., crashing onto two parked cars." Yikes! The Wall Street Journal, which originally reported the story, adds that "Extell Development can’t resume building until it shows it can carry out the job safely." Luckily, nobody was hurt, but after three incidents, people are getting increasingly anxious about walking anywhere near the building. You can't blame them, either. Even if it had been a single incident, falling glass from a building, especially one that tall, is pretty scary indeed. 

It seemed straightforward enough: The co-op board of 26 East 38th Street in Manhattan wanted to take possession of an apartment being sublet without permission. But the shareholder was in jail for running a tax-fraud scheme from home. And the subtenant, a gay-nightlife fixture and Fox News hairstylist, was passing himself off as the shareholder's lawyer. Whether the board was successful or not, one thing's for sure: This wasn't your usual repossession case.

In the ever-amusing annals of things co-op and condo boards shouldn't do, one of them is breaking into an apartment during a legal dispute. This wouldn't seem to be a point of which boards, or people in general, need reminding. But at the Park South co-op, at 200 Central Park South in Manhattan, that's just what the board did during an ongoing lawsuit — and even though the shareholder was in the building at the time.

The human body is a beautiful thing ... except for that guy on the nude beach over there, or that lady with the thing, or whoever that is staring at me out of my mirror. Oh, wait.... Anyway, the point is that we should get to pick and choose when or where we're looking at naked people. And according to the New York Daily News, the condo board of the Ritz Tower, at 465 Park Avenue, doesn't want its residents forced to gaze upon three floors plus rooftop hot tubs belonging to a “nudity friendly” spa next door. In fact, the board is suing the Spa Castle being built in The Galleria Condominium not only for this "public nuisance" but also for building up the roof in a way that blocks some apartments' views and violates a 1974 agreement with The Galleria's former owners. Yet Spa Castle, in response to a cease-and-desist letter, “actually accelerated the work being performed," the suit alleges. Only in Nude York, kids, only in Nude York.

What's with ground leases so much in the news lately? In our second item about them in a week, a consortium is paying $285 million for the land beneath Carnegie House, the 324-unit co-op at 100 West 57th Street. Since ground-lease rents are typically 6 percent of current market value, reports The Real Deal, rising New York real estate prices means the current $4.4 million rent the cooperative pays annually would be $27 million if the rent were to be reset today — so what's it going to be in 10 years, when the rent is scheduled to be reset? Which brings to mind a variation on the old joke: How do you get to Carnegie House? By having enough money to make ground-lease payments the size of Montana.

So let's check in and see what co-ops and condos the one percent are buying and selling. According to 6sqft.com, the New York Knicks' new president, Phil Jackson, just spent $4.85 million to buy a posh place at the Osborne Apartments at 205 West 57th Street, where the likes of Leonard Bernstein, Lynn Redgrave, Bobby Short and many other notables have lived. In fact, Jackson's got 3B, directly under the apartment where Bernstein, Short and actor Larry Storch had lived at various times. The 1883 landmarked building went co-op in 1961. At the equally storied 15 Central Park West, Sara Blakely, founder of the Spanx undergarment empire, and her husband just sold their condo apartment for $30 million, after having bought it for $12.11 million in 2008, says the New York Daily News. So you gotta wonder: Where do you go when 15 Central Park isn't good enough?

The Carnegie House, at 100 West 57th Street, is a fairly traditional co-op. Complicated in 1962, the grey-brick beauty was named after nothing less than Carnegie Hall. Yet even such an old-school cooperative wants to keep up with the times, and if it can lower its electricity bills by 15 percent, so much the better. Thus, the more than 300-unit, 21-story building did a top-to-bottom overhaul of its energy systems — a $788,000 project that will recoup its cost in six years, thanks to $197,000 in incentives from the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA), a loan at about half the market rate and the aforesaid electric-bill savings. Amy Zimmer of DNAInfo.com covers the Carnegie and other buildings, and offers five energy-savings tips.

Are you having a dispute with a staff member over a thorny issue, such as a denied request for overtime, which is seen as a vendetta? Are you involved in a dismissal for cause that the dismissed party believes involves discrimination? And are you finding that such situations have led to drawn-out lawsuits?

Certainly many managers are. "We fired someone and they sued," says Paul Brensilber, president of the Manhattan-based management firm Jordan Cooper & Associates. "What with the trial and appeals, we spent a fortune fighting it."

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