New York's Cooperative and Condominium Community

Habitat Magazine July/August 2020 free digital issue

HABITAT

UPPER WEST SIDE

Life in a co-op is all about community. But sometimes community living can present challenges ranging from personality clashes to more serious matters, such as dealing with a super who's, well, less than super. Take this co-op in the Upper West Side, for example, which is coping with an allegedly belligerent live-in super. "[He] appears to have a drinking problem. He literally passed out, face down on the sidewalk, in front of the building early one morning. He got into a physical altercation with a vagrant in front of the building and had to be hospitalized. He verbally abuses building staff," one of its shareholders writes to Ronda Kaysen in this week's Ask Real Estate column in The New York Times. According to the shareholder, the super doesn't seem to be drinking during business hours. "But shouldn't he be coherent and alert at all times, ready to make an important decision at any time, if needed?" The co-op board doesn't want to make a move "because they think that what he does on his own time is his own business." That's quite a pickle. "A live-in super has a right to a private life," answer Kaysen. "But when he behaves in a worrisome manner in or outside the building, his personal choices become his employer's problem, because management sets the standards for workplace behavior." Furthermore, the super needs to be available in emergency situations, even if they occur in the middle of the night or any time before he starts or after he finishes his shift. The board's "cavalier attitude" is especially alarming, Kaysen points out. "[It] puts the safety of residents and other employees at risk." If the board feels firing the super is too drastic a measure, then it should certainly takes steps to improve the situation. That may mean conducting an evaluation and putting the super on probation to give him a chance to rectify his problematic behavior.

The 54-unit, four-building co-op at 13-19 West 106th Street is also called 13-19 Duke Ellington Boulevard Housing Development Fund Corporation (HDFC). The complex, reports DNAinfo, became an HDFC in 1994 when tenants took it over from a deadbeat landlord. But it looks like there's trouble in paradise. According to the article, the building "has slipped back into disrepair" and now tenants have filed a lawsuit alleging that it's because "board members [have begun] using [the building] as [its] own personal piggy bank." According to tenants Glen Grant and Pascally Toussaint, the board has racked up more than $143,000 in back taxes and nearly $70,000 in water and sewer charges, says DNAinfo citing public finance records. The tenants say that "building doors have been broken for a decade. Smoke detectors have dead batteries. The boiler rarely works. There was a recent rat infestation and bed bug problem, and when Grant sits at his computer desk, mice run over his feet. While the building piles on debt, the president, vice president and secretary/treasure have been collecting monthly salaries of $1,600, $1,000 and $650 respectively since 2006." Board members are reportedly trying to "get a loan, sell a co-op-owned apartment and raise maintenance prices. They recently held elections for the first time in more than eight years, and in a letter this week announced another meeting for shareholders will be held in August." Unfortunately, if the building doesn't sort out its arrears, the city will likely "transfer ownership to an affordable housing developer who would turn it back into rentals. Current shareholders could remain as renters but would lose all their equity." And that's a sad situation for any co-op, HDFC or otherwise, to find itself in. 

As non-owners, renters don't have the same stake in a building as do shareholders or unit-owners. Never mind that assessments and maintenance increases don't affect them. Needless to say, for these and other reasons, renters don't sit on boards. But what happens when they feel like they feel mistreated and want to have a voice and representation? Some renters have lived in their co-op or condo apartments for years but feel like they are treated differently from owners by building staff. That's the case for renters in a building on Manhattan's Upper West Side. One of them tells Ronda Kaysen in this week's Ask Real Estate column in The New York Times that "the superintendent tends to treat [renters] as second-class citizens. Having a voice on the board might help." Stop the press, a renter on a board? "Good luck finding condo or co-op owners willing to vote a non-owner onto the board — assuming they even can," says Kaysen. "The bylaws of most buildings prohibit non-owners from sitting on the board. But even if your building were to permit the practice, owners (who are the only voting members) would have little incentive to elect a rental tenant. From an owner's perspective, a renter would not feel the pain of a special assessment or maintenance increase. So it would not make sense for a rental tenant to vote on such matters." So what recourse, if any, do renters in this type of situation have? Kaysen suggests forming "a tenants' association to demand a change from the condo, as there are rules that guarantee services and protect against harassment. But if tenants want a voice in day-to-day operations, they could suggest that a tenant be offered a seat on a house committee that reports to the board. Such committees frequently offer seats to residents who are not board members. They do not delve into the finances of the building but can influence quality-of-life issues." The more you know! 

 
 

Even if you live in a five- or six-story building rather than in a super-tall luxury high-rise, there are perks you get on the top floor that you don't on the lower floors. For starters, even if your neighbors frequent the roof lots, you don't have to deal with stomping at all hours of the day and night — which is nice. You tend to get better views and lighting, too. This is why maintenance fees and common charges are typically higher for people who live on higher floors. One co-op shareholder in the Upper West Side asks Ronda Kaysen why in this week's Ask Real Estate column in The New York Times: "Does an apartment owner on the 10th floor use more services than someone living directly below her?" When a building is set up as a co-op or a condominium, Kaysen explains, "the developer has to allocate the shares or common interests in a way that is marketable and makes sense, varying the maintenance or common charges throughout the building." She adds that while residents living in units on higher floors might use more services than those on lower floors, it isn't the reason they pay more. Living higher up, says Kaysen, is considered an amenity. Nice views and sunny rooms do come at a premium in the big city. 

Another day, another luxury development in the works causing locals a lot of grief: that's the world of New York City real estate. Late last week, opponents of a controversial Upper West Side project cried foul after the Department of Buildings (DOB) issued the developer last-minute permits to carry on construction, according to DNAinfo. The project in question is a 10-story addition on top of a six-story apartment building located at 711 West End Avenue. Tenants are concerned about dust, noise, and construction traffic, as are parents of children attending the nearby elementary school. They want "more transparency and better safety measures," to be put in place. They are also upset because the DOB granted the permits "just a day before a sweeping landmarking of the avenue that would have derailed the project. Additions to landmarked buildings have to get approval by the Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) and are not permitted 'as of right.'" One parent added: "The developers knew the [LPC] vote was coming so they slammed through a bunch of permits to avoid being accountable." In response, a DOB spokesperson said that "the department does not determine when a permit review happens, and that reviews are scheduled by the applicant during times when a DOB examiner is available," adding that "according to the New York City Construction Code, a project's future landmark status cannot be factored in." It looks like the project's opponents aren't giving up. They are calling on Mayor Bill de Blasio to intervene. DNAinfo reported that the mayor's office didn't immediately return a request for comment. Tenants officially submitted a challenge to the developer's plan citing safety concerns, but a DOB examiner had already approved the safety plan. Opponents still have until August 2 to submit other challenges to the project, but that may prove impossible since some of the developer's plans are not available to the public. The group reportedly intends to keep the pressure on the mayor to do something.

Photo by Christopher Bride for Property Shark

Despite all the news about luxury condos rising all over the city, there hasn't been much activity on the Upper West Side's park boulevard… until now. Starting next week, reports the New York Daily News, "13 renovated units will go on sale at the landmark building at 360 Central Park West — some of only a few new condo units to hit the market [in that vicinity] in decades. The pre-war, park-facing building designed by 20th-century architect Rosario Candela, overlooks the reservoir. Built in 1928, the 17-story Neo-Renaissance-style property "remained a rental building until the owner convinced the landowner to sell the underlying property to him in 2011." The developer then brought "architecture giant CetraRuddy [on board] to reimagine the apartments for a modern homebuyer, with coffered ceilings, herringbone floors, premium-grade appliances and custom-built white oak fixtures." Some of the units in the landmarked building were combined to make it worthwhile for wealthy Upper West Side families. Indeed, all of the luxury — and the ticket price to match — with none of the impossibly tall glass and steel that seems to be robbing New York of its charm. So how much does a luxury pad in an old New York building set you back? How's about $1.5 million for a one-bedroom pad to more than $6 million for a four-bedroom home? Sure, it's hardly chump change, but "still significantly less than the jaw-dropping asking prices at famed Central Park West buildings such as the Dakota and the Beresford, which typically trade for about 50 percent more on a price-per-square-foot basis."

Photo credit: StreetEasy

Chuck Wall, the board president, and the other four board members of the Alexandria House have had a busy three years. And although they have faced a set of daunting challenges, they have moved methodically and tirelessly forward, not focusing on the problems but rather the solutions.

The story of the 74-unit cooperative, at 250 West 103rd Street between Broadway and West End Avenue and managed by Orsid Realty, starts with a fairly routine event in the life of most co-ops: the board's previous mortgage came due. With an eye to future capital projects, the board refinanced its mortgage for $2.5 million (of which $1.75 million went to pay down the first mortgage and the balance went into the reserves). The building also took out a half-a-million-dollar line of credit. Not too long after that, the co-op got hit with a one-two punch that could easily have sent them reeling. 

New Yorkers love their views. They also don't shy away from expressing their displeasure when it comes to having those views obstructed — even if it's a lost cause. You might say that a New Yorker who doesn't complain isn't really a New Yorker. When the 14-tower got the green light in 2013 to rise on the north side of St. John the Divine on the Upper West Side, people were ticked off. They tried to stop it, but, reports DNAinfo, "the cathedral said it needed the millions of dollars generated by the [Brodsky Organization's 428-unit residential condo] each year in order to fund deferred repairs and maintenance on the aging structure." That doesn't mean Upper West Siders are going to quit kvetching about it, especially now that the tower is taking shape and blocking views of the historic cathedral. 

It's easy to forget that one of the byproducts of all this new condo construction is disruption of life as usual — unless you live across the street from it, that is. Take the rental building across the street from a luxury condo that is under construction. One of its tenants wrote to Ronda Kaysen's latest "Ask Real Estate" column in The New York Times explaining that a structure has been erected in front of the rental building to accommodate fire trucks from the station, likewise across the street from the construction site. According to the tenant, "taxis, cars and moving trucks can no longer pull up to the front of the building…. [and] traffic [has been] diverted to a small lane next to this structure, creating unsafe conditions for drivers and pedestrians." It's a political question, explains Kaysen, adding that the tenant could contact the Department of Transportation (DOT), or better yet the local community board or elected officials. But the bottom line is that, very likely, "the condo is an as-of-right development, which means that it was not subject to a public review process where the community would have had the opportunity to weigh in on practical matters like where to house fire trucks. This might explain why the structure seemingly rose out of thin air." It's something for existing co-ops and condos to keep in mind, especially since next time, one of those new condos — and any accompanying ugly structures — might be right outside their doors rather than outside a rental building.

Remember the iPad on steroids? It's just one of the new tools in a technological arsenal that real estate developers are using to sell, sell, sell in the city. The beautiful thing about technology is that it's forever evolving. Just check out what Extell Development Company is using to sell condos in the 219-unit One Riverside Park. Holograms. They call it innovative. We call it pretty darn cool. According to The New York Times article, "the hologram presentation includes an overview of the waterfront neighborhood, a trip inside the new complex, now 85 percent sold with remaining units ranging from $3.6 to $25 million, and a dazzling display of its amenities." You can tell someone how amazing a unit is, not to mention all the awesome amenities, but it's always better to show them. In a city where it's always best to walk your talk, that just makes good sense.

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