New York's Cooperative and Condominium Community

Habitat Magazine Insider Guide



Dumpy. Once upon a time, that was the best word to describe the lobby at 1150 Park Avenue, a Carnegie Hill co-op in Manhattan that featured imitation 18th-century green fabric, English-style furniture in the lobby and wallpaper that imitated stone in the vestibule. "The lobby looked dilapidated, tired and old," recalls board president Lillian Brash.

As the housing market heats up, many co-op and condo boards are taking a fresh look at their lobbies and realizing that if shareholders and unit-owners want to get top dollar, the lobby needs to wow a potential buyer. But renovating a lobby is an expensive undertaking that can cost anywhere from tens to several hundred thousand dollars. Eager to keep costs down, many condo and co-op boards are looking for ways to refresh their lobbies without draining their capital reserves.

The 21-story cooperative at 201 East 66th Street, completed in 1961 and converted to co-op 20 years later, had three aging elevators that broke down frequently. Only two of them went all the way to the basement. "They were kind of limping along," says Jon Shechter, resident manager of the self-run building.

The board decided it was time to replace them with a newer, more efficient system. Yet the building also had to resurface and waterproof its 115-car parking garage and needed to upgrade its mechanical system. Together, the three projects would be expensive: Replacing the elevators alone would cost $750,000, and the new mechanical system could run to about $1.7 million. And the board did not want to levy another assessment on weary residents.

The past three years have been a dizzying time of capital improvements for the residents of 201 East 66th Street, a 21-story co-op at Third Avenue in the Lenox Hill neighborhood of Manhattan. The building finished a major façade improvement, replaced all its elevators, and will soon overhaul its mechanical system. Perhaps even more impressive: the board has not raised maintenance fees to pay for the work, although it did levy an assessment. The secret to the building's success lies in an unusual combination of cheap debt, a hands-on board and in-house management.

The co-op at 201 East 66th Street in Manhattan heats both its apartments and its domestic hot water with steam purchased from Con Edison. Steam heat is expensive, since it's generated at a Con Edison plant and then piped into the building through city pipes. Not only is the 52-year-old building saddled with an expensive and inefficient system, its equipment is aging and its chiller for air conditioning needs to be replaced. Could co-generation be the answer? And if so, how do you sell it to your board and residents?

Recent news affecting co-op / condo buyers, sellers, boards and residents. More trouble for those involved in illegal short-term rentals, with a major real-estate agent involved. Plus, advice for dealing with co-op board rejection, how to gracefully decline writing a recommendation letter, second-class citizenship at luxury condos, and co-op capers with beer heiress Daphne Guinness and Academy Award-nominee Jessica Chastain (at right). And for co-op / condo boards, we've analyses of Fletcher v. Dakota and of the easing of FHA condo rules.

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.

Sponsor. An innocuous little two-syllable word. But in the roughhouse world of New York real estate, the sponsor — the party who creates a co-op or condo either by converting a rental building or erecting a new structure — is often seen as a villain. Sponsor, in the eyes of many co-op shareholders and condo unit-owners, is one very dirty little word. in part two of our three-part special report on sponsors retaining control past the deadlines set by law, we look at how owning even less than one-third of a co-op's apparent can thwart progress and change.

Recent news affecting co-op / condo buyers, sellers, boards and residents. This week, one of the city's biggest landlords enacts one of the largest smoking bans in the country, with reverberations for co-ops and condos. A shareholder sues a co-op board over a newly blocked view. A veterans' loan-guarantee program, common throughout the country, gets no respect in New York. And married co-op and condo owners are taking in roommates,

In December 2007, the original sponsor of 75 East End Avenue's 1974 co-op conversion sold Simon Elias and Izak Senbahar unsold shares representing 18 apartments. The proprietary lease states that unsold shares stay "unsold" until an actual occupant buys them. Because Elias and Senbahar did not purchase the shares for occupancy and never lived in the apartment, their shares remained "unsold." Selling these unsold shares required only the consent of the managing agent, but the co-op board also had a policy, the "financing rule," that said the board wouldn't consent to a sale if the buyer proposed to finance more than two-thirds of the purchase price. And therein came the hitch.

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