Every autumn, the Council of New York Cooperatives & Condominiums holds
its information-packed Housing Conference, with scores of
workshops and seminars, and unparalleled opportunities for
board members to learn and to share information. This year's
Conference will be held on Sunday, November 17th. Every
CNYC member cooperative or condominium can send one person
at no cost; additional participants can attend at reasonable
rates. The facing page contains a preview of Conference
workshops. The Conference brochure will be sent to CNYC
members and subscribers in September and will also be enclosed
in the autumn Newsletter.
At last years Housing Conference, CNYC Board Chairman Stuart
M. Saft, Esq. and property manager David Kuperberg had situation-specific
suggestions for coping with residents who try the patience of their
neighbors and the board. Following are highlights of their seminar.
DEALING WITH DIFFICULT RESIDENTS
Virtually every building has residents who are difficult
to deal with for one reason or another. They are shareholders
who create noise disturbances when most people are sleeping,
or do renovations without Board permission or requisite
permits, or fail to clean up after their pets. Or they may
be conducting criminal activities in the building or may
never pay their carrying charges on time. The question is,
what can a board do to deal with these residents and prevent
them from ruining the quality of life for everyone else?
THE IMPORTANCE OF COMMUNICATION
Good communication is key to heading off many problems. For example,
a board can use its newsletter to explain house rules, drive home points
about showing courtesy to fellow residents, and generally inform residents
about building matters and pressing problems. Naturally, the newsletter
must never mention problem residents by name, but it should address
the issue at hand and explain exactly how it violates the house rules,
bylaws and/or proprietary lease. Once difficult residents understand
the consequences of their actions, they may be inclined to relent or
A direct and diplomatic approach may also yield results, particularly
if the resident simply had not understood or been aware of the rules.
The managing agent or a member of the Board can calmly inform the resident
that his or her neighbors have brought a problem to the board's attention.
Provide the resident with a copy of the rule that is being violated
and be prepared to discuss ways to come into compliance.
To prevent problems before they occur, a Board should always be clear
and consistent in all policy-making. The Board can establish and modify
house rules. In the event a rule is broken, the Board may impose a fine
per violation at an amount which it has specified in the rules.
When reviewing your house rules, make sure they conform with the proprietary
lease. If contradictions are found, modify either the rules or the lease
to be consistent, as inconsistent rules are not enforceable. And always
be sure to explain all rule changes clearly to shareholders or unit
owners, either in a newsletter or a special bulletin.
Boards that conduct their business without communicating well with
residents risk inviting suspicion and mistrust. Often, residents who
feel they are in the dark may demand to see the books and records. New
York housing laws permit the Board to refuse access to sensitive information;
however, denying access may make the Board look guilty of wrongdoing,
and the residents' suspicions would be further fueled. The speakers
advised against showing the minutes of board meetings as they may contain
sensitive or confidential information. They also noted that a New York
law limits to only four months the period after an election when ballots
and proxies for an election can be inspected.
PLAYING HARDBALL: TERMINATIONS
On the extreme end, the Board can move to terminate a proprietary lease
for objectionable conduct. A number of violations are legitimate reasons
for such action. A Board can secure a lease termination if the person
is engaging in an illegal activity or if it is discovered that the resident
has lied on the purchase application, or if the resident is conducting
a business in the apartment when the proprietary lease and zoning do
not allow for accessory business use.
To initiate the termination process, the managing agent or attorney
needs to send notice to the resident, explaining the objectionable conduct
and stating that the offender's lease will be terminated if the violation
reoccurs. If it does, the matter can be taken to Housing Court. There,
the Board should be prepared to show as much documentation as possible
of the violation, including logs of the offending behavior, letters
and complaints from neighbors, and so on.
Perhaps the most common problem Boards have with residents is arrears
and late payment of maintenance fees and common charges. If a shareholder
does not pay maintenance fees promptly, the Board can legally charge
a late fee if so provided in the corporate documents. If the case goes
to Housing Court, the resident will have to present a legitimate reason
for his or her failure to make timely payments.
THE MOST DIFFICULT RESIDENTS
Ironically, some of the most difficult residents are those with legal
training. Lawyers, paralegals, and law students often challenge their
cooperative or condominium in court. For example, in a building that
was preparing to undergo a four-month renovation, a lawyer-resident
sued because he could not use his terrace during the renovation; another
lawyer-resident sued because she couldn't use her patio. They both did
so knowing that they could probably get only a small abatement of their
carrying charges for the loss of use of a portion of their apartments.
While they would save only a small amount say about 5%
they succeeded in disrupting the building's business, interfering with
work schedules, and making life difficult for the Board.
No cooperative or condominium is without its share of difficult
residents, but, if the Board acts intelligently, responsibly
and tactfully, it can minimize potential problems and reduce
the impact that knock-down, drag-out conflicts can have
on a building's quality of life.