HABITAT

WHITE PLAINS

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The Park That Joe Built

Written by Tom Soter on November 04, 2015

White Plains

They said it couldn't be done. But to Joe Camastra that's all the more reason to try to do it. "They said the building slab wasn't conducive to carrying weight. I said, 'No problem. I heard everything you had to say. But I am going to build a park.'"

Now, five years later, Camastra watches as workmen put the finishing touches to a park built over a partially underground garage at the Claridge, one of two 100-unit buildings that make up one cooperative in White Plains. For the last 16 years, the co-op, with an annual budget of approximately $3 million, has been run by board president Camastra, 75, who will never get a prize for modesty (although he could get one for getting things done).

The history of bad blood between boards and holders of unsold shares or unsold apartments — often called "sponsors" though they might be not the original co-op sponsor or condo developer anymore — dates back to the rental-building conversion boom of the 1980s. Sponsors were the building owners who converted to cooperative status, with units sold to the public. However, in most cases, they would keep a number of apartments and retain majority control of the boards. As a result, they would have the largest say in rules, regulations, and spending for their buildings. This goes on today with new construction and some condominium developers. 

And the first step for condo and co-op boards that want an effective working relationship with a sponsor? It's understanding how sponsors think.

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.

Sure, your doorman probably isn't gossiping about the people you're dating. And sure, that fellow co-op board member who wants you out isn't looking through security-camera footage to prove you're not cleaning up after your dog. And, surely, you as a parent aren't going to ask your board or management to let you see electronic key-fob data and confirm what time your teenager came home.

Except … what's to stop you?

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