New York's Cooperative and Condominium Community

Habitat Magazine July/August 2020 free digital issue



A New York City court has ruled that existing State law forbidding private landlords from prohibiting day-care centers also applies to residential co-ops. The Housing Court decision, in a case involving a Bronx cooperative, invalidates a provision of that co-op's proprietary lease that says apartments can be used only as residences.

You can hear the smile in Mary Ann Dowling’s voice when she talks about the sense of community in her Bronx co-op. “It’s a mixture of people — some young, and the majority of [recent] sales are young couples with kids  but there are people who have lived here since the building was built” in 1953, says Dowling, the board president at Briar Oaks in Riverdale. “It’s a real community.”

Call it a “professional business with heart.”  Or call it an “Oasis” in the Bronx. In fact, you can call 1 Fordham Hill Oval many things, but most of them would be positive. And much of that is because of the hands-on board led by Desiree Pilgrim-Hunter, 57, the charismatic board president. In the following interview, Pilgrim-Hunter speaks frankly about the frustrations and rewards of board service, and the challenges she faces in supervising 12 acres of beautifully landscaped grounds, 1,119 middle-class apartments, and nine high-rises. Those buildings encircle the “Oval,” a verdant meeting space that gives the co-op its nickname: “Oasis in the Bronx.” The gated complex was built 60 years ago, and Pilgrim-Hunter has lived there for half that time.

What motivated you to serve on the board?

I was training to be a community organizer [with the Northwest Bronx Community and Clergy Coalition] when I started to hear rumblings about the board, that it was engaging in some really bad behavior. Then I started hearing about really rancorous board meetings. We finally had to organize the shareholders to vote out that board. The goal was to remove the four worst board members; we ended up replacing the entire group.

Recent news affecting co-op / condo buyers, sellers, boards and residents. This week, residents' outrage over rodents reaches a roar in one middle-class Bronx neighborhood's historic old co-ops (albeit spelled "coops"). Meanwhile, in a more upscale area of the borough, a condominium gets millions in tax breaks. Life as usual, in other words. And speaking of taxes, we've news on the class-action suit aiming to make New York City's crazy property-tax calculations fairer, and an Upper East Side condo is suing the MTA for Second Avenue subway-related damage. Plus: Celebrities buy penthouses!

Recent news affecting co-op / condo buyers, sellers, boards and residents. This week, one of the world's richest condominiums has a big, circular driveway it won't let limo drivers use. Why should it? The NYPD looks the other way as a half-dozen or more limos idle daily in a no-parking zone, spewing fumes to other, less connected buildings. Very nice, 15 Central Park West. Meanwhile, rent-controlled seniors in a co-op are forced to evict their son, and a co-op board president admits that people were ahead of him in line when he took a four-bedroom apartment at the affordable-housing East Midtown Plaza. He doesn't have six people in his family like City rules say, but so what? He's just practicing to be the kind of people who live in 15 Central Park West.

Recent news affecting co-op / condo buyers, sellers, boards and residents. This week, the Realty Advisory Board is negotiating on behalf of boards and landlords as it continues contract talks with the union representing doormen and other building workers. New York State has some questions about NYSERDA money at Co-op City. A Queens co-op seeks money to repair a Sandy-battered seawall. And who's the best building manager and which is the best property-management company in New York. Well, there are many factors consider including continuity of leadership, responsiveness to clients, stability, experience, expertise, sufficient staffing and industry reputation and good will. Or you could just go check out the NYARM Awards.

An attorney for Co-op City, the more than 15,000-unit Bronx cooperative of high-rises and townhouses, is accusing recently elected New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio of reneging on a campaign promise to end an asbestos-abatement order the lawyer calls unnecessary.

Recent news affecting co-op / condo buyers, sellers, boards and residents. This week, a 63-year-old woman in a Fifth Avenue co-op has had the same Maytag washer in her apartment for 20 years with permission and without trouble. Now the co-op board won't approve a replacement unless it's one of three hoity-toity brands. Well, lah-de-dah ... Maytag's not good enough for 'em? Let's go to court! And court may be where Trump Village West board president Igor Oberman might wind up, since a New York City Department of Investigation report accuses him of less-than-ethical things. Plus, Co-op City has an asbestos problem. Or does it?

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?

Recent news affecting co-op / condo buyers, sellers, boards and residents. This week: Remember that deaf grandfather a couple of weeks ago in Battery Park City, where the condo board disapproved a service dog? Yeah, that dog died, but the man has another one and the board's not pursuing eviction. However, the homeowner is still pursuing an anti-discrimination lawsuit. In better news for boards, the U.S. Senate is delaying an increase in the cost of mandatory flood insurance — and speaking of which, some New York City property managers are encouraging serious disaster-prep at their buildings. Plus, it's the latest amenity: personal shoppers! Which they still don't have at Billy Joel's former co-op, now up for sale.

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