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Council of New York Cooperatives & Condominiums
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Conference Highlights

Published: Summer 2002

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 year’s 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 reform.

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.

 
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