New York's Cooperative and Condominium Community

Habitat Magazine Business of Management 2021

HABITAT

WESTCHESTER COUNTY

The shareholders at The Homestead, a co-op at 80 East Hartsdale Avenue in Westchester County, were pleased with the makeover at their 165-unit building. Then, at about 1:30 on a cold morning in February, an out-of-control car did a little renovation of its own, crashing into the railing surrounding the outside of the building, breaking it and sending pieces flying onto the deck plaza, into the canopy and the newly installed black metal entry doors to the building, seriously damaging them.

“Thank God, no one was hurt,” says board president Clementine Carbo. “It was a mess.”

 

Mold can grow very quickly. Before you know it, tiny spores can become large problems. Health issues caused or worsened by mold exposure include allergy attacks, respiratory infections, and asthma. Those dangers worried the board at Park Knoll, a 228-unit garden apartment complex in Westchester County built 62 years ago. It faced a possible mold threat after two of the fifteen buildings on the twelve-and-a-half-acre site were seriously damaged by fire.

One of the most important amenities a co-op or condo could have is a swimming pool. Nothing beats being able to cool off in one when the humidity feels like it's at 1,000 percent — which is why it's important for boards to make sure it's maintained properly. Unfortunately for residents of one co-op in Port Chester, Westchester, days before the pool was supposed to open for summer, they got a letter from the managing agent letting them know it would remain closed for the season. The problem, they tell Ronda Kaysen in this week's Ask Real Estate column in The New York Times, is that "the board had recently learned about an open permit that would require major modifications to the pool to bring it up to code. [The] co-op's lender does not allow for any open permits on the property." It's really crappy timing, and something the board should have caught sooner. But now that it's happened, shareholders want to know what recourse they have, if any — especially after one shareholder argued that "she should not have to pay her full maintenance" while the pool was out of commission and management responded by saying "it would report her to a collection agency if she did not pay the full amount." What a mess. Kaysen sympathizes with the shareholders but offers some sage advice: "Nothing puts a damper on Fourth of July festivities like a shuttered swimming pool. So I can only imagine how frustrated you and your neighbors must be at the managing agent and the co-op board, which should have seen this coming. But before you tear up your maintenance check, take a deep breath." James W. Glatthaar, a Westchester real estate lawyer, points out that withholding maintenance is misguided and doesn't help solve the problem. Why? Because the co-op needs that money to make the necessary repairs. The sooner the pool is brought up to code, the better, and that requires everyone's cooperation, even if everyone is really disappointed. Glatthaar adds that "most proprietary leases prohibit shareholders from deducting claims against the building from their maintenance. A delinquent shareholder could be declared in default, leading to late fees, legal fees and interest charges and possibly revocation of the proprietary lease." What to do instead? Kaysen recommends that instead of resorting to counterintuitive tactics, the shareholders should "consider a leadership shake-up. Read through the bylaws, which likely include a provision allowing shareholders to remove directors. In this case, shareholders might have a good reason to oust the current roster, especially if neglecting to close out old permits led to the pool closure." It's the smartest — and cheapest — solution. 

Buying a co-op apartment — that is, purchasing shares of the corporation that owns the building — ain't easy. One of the many hurdles a potential buyer has to overcome is the dreaded board interview, not to mention having to successfully tackle the admissions package. The board has to scrutinize you, in part, to ensure that you are the right fit for the building; that you will be a good, courteous, and conscientious neighbor; and that you can afford your apartment. There will be background checks and credit checks and you may not get in. But what happens when you get in and then do something to smear your record? What happens if you find yourself pleading guilty to defrauding the government of more than $165,000 in a 9/11 scheme. A shareholder in Hastings-on-Hudson asks Ronda Kaysen in this week's "Ask Real Estate" column in The New York Times whether the board has any grounds to get this guy out of the co-op. And the answer is probably not what you might expect. Had this shareholder committed a crime prior to purchasing the co-op, it would have shown up on his background check and very likely lost him his chance to buy into the building. But as this happened after he was already a shareholder, well… Kaysen points out that although this guy "might have committed a crime… that fact alone does not make him a bad neighbor, nor does it mean he should lose his home. Although co-ops reserve the right to evict residents under certain circumstances, this is not one of them." The bottom line is that a board can only evict current shareholders "for doing something that harmed either the building or its residents." He's not defrauded the co-op, so he stays.

If you think being a concierge is easy, think again. The concierge is the gatekeeper, and depending on the building, a wearer of many hats. He is tasked with keeping the property and its residents safe, by greeting, announcing, and directing visitors to their destinations — and preventing unauthorized persons from gaining access to any of the apartments or common areas. He has to sign for and store packages and dry cleaning for the residents, and let them know when their fast-food delivery orders arrive. He is a juggler of sorts who has to find that perfect balance between following the board's orders and keeping the residents happy.

You'd think that wouldn't be such a difficult task, but sometimes the guardian of the gates may end up feeling like he's stuck in the middle of his duties and a unit-owner's wishes. That was the case for one concierge, whom we'll call John Smith, who formerly worked in a medium-size condo in Westchester.

After Hurricane Agnes hit in 1972, the Brooklands complex — 137 apartments in three mid-rise, brick-and-stucco, neo-Georgian buildings — suffered a catastrophic flood. Flood waters engulfed the property again in 2007, thanks to a one-two punch of melting snow and torrential rains that caught the co-op by surprise. It wiped out all three elevators, both boilers, all electric meters and transformers, 96 automobiles, and all 24 ground-level apartments. Luckily, no one died. Kerry Smith, a retired magazine publisher, joined the Brooklands board and immediately got to work trying to convince his fellow shareholders that they needed to prepare for future flooding. Some of the board members had been dragging their feet on the proposal to augment the flood wall that was supposed to protect the property. Then Hurricane Irene and another devastating flood hit in 2011. Smith called the storm "a wake-up call, with a kick in the head." At an open meeting called for October 4, 2011, three foot-dragging board members resigned and were replaced by three people who shared Smith's sense of urgency. The flood wall would be augmented.

They just needed to figure out how to pay for it, and how to overcome the bureaucratic hurdle they were about to face.  

The great French novelist Honoré de Balzac did not have a high opinion of bureaucracies or the people who work in them. "A bureaucracy," he wrote, "is a giant mechanism operated by pygmies."

After two vicious floods and an epic battle with municipal, county, state, and federal bureaucracies, the board of directors and the professionals at the Brooklands co-op in Bronxville could be excused for sharing Balzac's dim view of bureaucracies and bureaucrats. Miraculously, they do not. This is the story of why — and also a story of what your board can expect if it's ever forced to go up against the giant governmental mechanism known as a bureaucracy.

The Bryn Mawr Ridge co-op in Yonkers has been able to pull itself up from a state of near-extinction to robust health following a simple tenet: turnover, then buy down.

Back in the early nineties, the sponsor of the 528-unit, 19-building garden apartment complex went belly-up. The bank took over 239 unsold units — then went out of business itself.

Residential-building service workers in New York State's Hudson Valley region, represented by SEIU Local 32BJ Hudson Valley, reached a tentative agreement yesterday with the Building and Realty Institute of Westchester and the Mid-Hudson Region (BRI), averting a possible strike with the Sept. 30 expiration of the old contract.

Crest Manor is a seven-story, 160-unit co-op at 377 North Broadway, in Yonkers, N.Y. The 35-year-old property has been dealing with crumbling infrastructure for years, according to longtime managing agent Darek Chrzanowski of Stillman Property Management, who says that the time for stopgap repairs had passed. The building needs to replace its balconies, refurbish the swimming pool and fix the two-level parking garage. Budgeted for $2.5 million, the projects are being funded by a refinancing of the co-op's underlying mortgage.

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