New York's Cooperative and Condominium Community

HABITAT

FOREST HILLS

A group in Forest Hills, Queens, wants to honor the late Soviet émigré writer Sergei Dovlatov (pictured) by having a portion of 63rd Drive where he lived named after him. Already, reports the English-language radio program The Voice of Russia, the co-op board of his building has voted to install a commemorative plaque. It's an idea other boards may want to consider — prestige can enhance market value, and famous notables have lived all over New York City.

Serving on a board is challenging. Those challenges run the gamut, from ephemeral issues (like creating harmony out of disharmony among board members) to more nuts-and-bolts kinds of stuff (like fixing a garage leak). I should know. I have spent several years coping with a multitude of problems as the president of my co-op board.

Her name was Kim and she lived in Forest Hills, Queens, in a 100-unit cooperative. She was on the co-op board and was talking, with great animation, about a shareholder who had "disappeared" and mysteriously left his apartment empty. My ears perked up. Was this a story of drama and intrigue, one that would offer new insights into board life?

As the second storm of the week hit New York City and its environs, some managers say calcium chloride, or sidewalk salt, is in short supply. "We are running out," said Pamela DeLorme, president of Delkap Management, based in Howard Beach, Queens. "We bought a few thousand bags before the season began, but with the frequent storms, the substance is now in short supply." Delkap obtained about 2,000 bags of salt two weeks ago.

Plagued by leaks in its large underground garage, the board at Gerard Towers, a 563-unit cooperative at 70-25 Yellowstone Blvd. in Forest Hills, was seeking solutions. The situation was simple but frustrating: an Olympic-size pool on the building’s ground floor was leaking into the garage below it. Not only was spalling occurring on the walls, but the water was harming the structural integrity of those walls – and damaging the cars as well. The situation had gone on for nearly a decade, with various stopgap remedies being employed to stem the tide, but a permanent solution eluded the co-op.

In an ideal world, the co-op sponsor or condominium developer steadily sells off apartments until control of the building goes to the residents and their elected board of directors. Trouble tends to arise when a sponsor / developer retains ownership of a significant number of apartments long after conversion or construction. And typically, a strong sponsor presence on the condo or co-op board brings a litany of problems — lower values because of the prevalence of rental apartments; increased wear and tear on the building because of rental-unit turnover; difficulty in refinancing mortgages for shareholders or unit-owners; and trouble securing mortgage financing for prospective buyers.

Recent news affecting co-op / condo buyers, sellers, boards and residents. Quite the tabloid week this week, as police tell more about the Penn South embezzlement, as international money-laundering sends a Chelsea condominium apartment into auction, and as a suspect is arrested in a Co-op City killing. Plus, a bathroom may block views, a "maintenance-free" co-op and are Manhattan apartment prices up or down?

It's one thing to read about co-op or condo board officers' duties and responsibilities. But only another board officer can tell you what it's really like. In our ongoing series "Board 101," we present three co-op board treasurers sharing some of the most significant and even amusing things they've learned about taking on the role.

Laura Corwin knew the time had come to put an end to it when she got another $16,000 bill at the end of the year. “There’s a time when you say enough is enough.” The board of directors at her Forest Hills, Queens, co-op agreed. No one knew how old this particular pair was, but it was time for the two elevators to go. “The elevators were getting a little scary,” Corwin says.

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