New York's Cooperative and Condominium Community

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The board of a 39-unit co-op in Yonkers recently locked horns with its engineer and contractor over a disputed $1.2 million exterior repair job. Loath to spend time and money on a lawsuit, the seven directors opted to pursue mediation and then arbitration. This board's story has some agonizing moments — and some valuable lessons along the way.

One man, they say, can change history. And in 2003, David Pullman did just that, lending his name to the precedent-setting court decision in 40 W. 67th Street v. Pullman. 

Financial professional Pullman — who'd already made headlines working with David Bowie to package the singer’s copyrights and catalog into what he trademarked as “Bowie Bonds” — had a documented history of ranting, raving and circulating defamatory fliers about various perceived transgressions at his Rosario Candela prewar classic. He pushed the co-op board and the shareholders to their limit, and then some. Finally, in a landmark turn, 100 percent of the shareholders voting in a special election, representing 75 percent of the shares, agreed to kick him out. The subsequent court case upholding that action solidified New York State co-op boards' nuclear option: eviction for "objectionable" behavior.

The landmark court decision in 40 W. 67th Street v. Pullman (2003) set the precedent that fully established that New York State co-op boards could, within certain criteria, evict shareholders found to be "objectionable." Many jocularly call this "the nuclear option," and it should only be used as a last resort. There are options boards can take before circumstances reach that extreme point. 

But if you do need to pull a Pullman, how do you go about it?

The insurance company and the board were soon wrangling over their widely divergent cost estimates, the scope of the work, what was covered under the policy and when the settlement would be delivered. Eager to get the job moving forward, the co-op board announced it was going to begin repairs in July 2009, seven months after the fire, with the money offered by the insurer — but would continue to fight for a larger settlement. Here, a bit of luck worked in the co-op's favor.

It all began on a cold December afternoon in 2008 at The Broadlawn, an elegant Jazz Era compound that houses 121 co-op apartments in White Plains, N.Y. Workers were repairing the slate roof and repointing the brick façade, and, though the contract stipulated that no acetylene torches were to be used on the job, one worker with the subcontractor was using a torch to speed the drying of mortar before the crew knocked off for the weekend. The flame ignited the roof. Soon the blaze was spreading out of control and a dark black cloud was boiling into the cold winter sky.

This is the story of that devastating fire, which wound up testing the residents, educating them and, finally, making their co-op stronger than ever.

Does Your Board Define the Problem Before Passing Rules?

Written by Donna DiMaggio Berger on January 10, 2014

New York State, New York City

Einstein is quoted as having said that if he had one hour to save the world he would spend fifty-five minutes defining the problem and only five minutes finding the solution. Co-op and condo board and homeowner-association counsel often do not hear of the existence of a new rule until we are being asked how to enforce it. In response, good counsel will ask for a history on the rule and how it came into existence. My first question is usually, "What was the problem that required you to pass this rule?"

Gandolfo ("Dolf") Ferucci has served on the board of the 66-unit Smith Street Gardens in Freeport, Long Island, since the mid-1980s. He moved into the 56-year-old building around 1982, and bought in as an insider when the building went cooperative in 1986. The apartments have very large rooms, he notes, and most residents are elderly and middle-income. Here, talking with Habitat Associate Editor Aparna Narayanan, the co-op board veteran discusses lessons learned over 25 years.

A change in the processing of the New York State School Tax Relief (STAR) program may cause nearly half of New York City's homeowners, including co-op shareholders and condo apartment-owners, to miss an average $280 property-tax break due them.

For the first time since the STAR exemption was enacted in 1997, homeowners under 65 years old who are already enrolled are now required to register with the State in order to continue receiving it. Previously, enrollment was automatic so long as the taxpayer continued to own the residence. As the Dec. 31 registration deadline approaches, 53 percent of City homeowners have registered, compared to 66 percent statewide.

Social media such as Facebook and Twitter can be a boon to co-op boards and condo associations, allowing you to get messages out quickly to your communities. But board members should be aware of the potential legal risks, such as:

Let's say working conditions at your co-op or condominium aren't necessarily ideal. And let's say your super complains about his job on his Facebook, Twitter or other social-media page — vocally and in detail and with profanity — and that it makes the board and the building look bad.

Can you fire him? That depends — on what he says, on who can read it, on who responds and how, on whether he's talking about this own job or the staff in general, among other factors. Here are some hypothetical posts and situations. Remember: Every specific case is different, and your lawyer is the one to give legal advice. But in terms of general guidelines, you should @#$%! read this.

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