Council of New York Cooperatives & Condominiums
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Building & Neighborhood Issues

Published: Autumn 2002

Dr. Ruth Finkelstein is a research scientist, well aware of how important it is to have clear, accurate information readily available. During her years of service on the board of the large, self managed cooperative that is her home, she noted that with the passage of time and with changes in building personnel, institutional memory was fading. She proposed to remedy this situation and quickly won the support of her colleagues on the board. A year and a half later, with her own building archives well organized to capture both past and future board decisions, structural improvements, employee history, Dr. Finkelstein was ready to share the fruits of her labors. She contacted CNYC and offered to present a workshop detailing her own journey towards ensuring consistency and continuity in the policies of her cooperative. Now this workshop is a CNYC classic, which Dr. Finkelstein repeats periodically, helping other CNYC members develop working archives for their buildings. Following is a summary of her July presentation.

As cooperatives and condominiums mature, personal memory is unreliable in recalling the long history of past policies, activities and transactions. This seminar describes an innovative and easy strategy to maintain and retrieve the history of past decisions and also to incorporate ongoing programs and policies. The priority is to facilitate effective and efficient Board oversight of corporate functions and innovations, planning for the long term and utilizing current technology. Dr. Finkelstein’s own system employs a computer program that was customized to the needs of this cooperative. Files and index cards can be almost equally effective, though retrieval will, of course, be somewhat slower.

What is required is a dedicated archivist (or a working team of dedicated archivists) committed to organizing past policy for ready access and reference. Their goal is to ensure continuity and maintenance of the business records of the condominium or cooperative, and careful documentation of the status and maintenance of the physical plant–including public areas, building systems, and individual apartment units. Once the system is in place, the time required to maintain it is modest, and the benefits are enormous. The age of your building and the state of past records will determine the magnitude of the initial task of organizing the archives.

Dr. Finkelstein and her helpers had to look back over their building’s 15-year history as a cooperative and a much longer history of the building’s physical structure. Reconstituting corporate history required scouring the proprietary lease, bylaws and house rules plus the minutes of all board meetings. Policies were organized by topic with citations of their source and dated records of any modifications made over the years. The information has been computerized into nine key categories and is readily retrievable for review as the board faces proposed policy modifications or as they prepare manuals for shareholders. Your own building may opt to modify these categories, but they serve as excellent guides.

  1. Board Records, including agendas and approved minutes of each meeting with cross references to pertinent correspondence stored in other areas, and any statements circulated to building residents as well as a complete history of all building policies and any changes made in the proprietary lease, the by-laws, the house rules, alteration policy, sublease policy, and a record of a board resolutions.
  2. Physical Plant Records. Here, the ideal is to begin with the original plans for the structure, adding records of modifications (community room, renovated laundry rooms, etc.) and establishing files to record alterations and renovations in individual apartments. Computerized building plans have been made up and can now be e-mailed to engineers and architects as they undertake projects. Going forward, computerized records of completed alterations are required from shareholders to keep the building’s files current. Dr. Finkelstein also established a permanent centralized record of all required building inspections and reports (e.g., Local Law 10/11); working closely with building staff and management, she developed an standardized building inventory of major equipment and consumable supplies and a schedule of routine and preventive maintenance.
  3. Business Records. The corporate accountant was consulted regarding how long to keep various documents (see accompanying chart). Files were established for bills, bank statements, payroll records, etc. along with a schedule for their periodic purging. Permanent files were also established for contracts on capital projects, leases on commercial spaces, insurance policies, and files on transactions with shareholders such as subleases (with a copy in the apartment file).
  4. Professional Consultants were each listed, with a complete work history compiled and any crucial correspondence retained.
  5. Major Skilled Vendors were also listed, with work histories and correspondence files; these were cross-referenced with apartment files as appropriate.
  6. Personnel Records on each employee were maintained including all reports, notices, correspondence with the union, records of professional training, etc. Information on terminated employees is retained for seven years and then purged unless there is still business pending regarding that employee.
  7. Publications (e.g., Newsletters)
  8. Procedures This category compiles records of board decisions regarding particular policies plus any manuals and other communications prepared. Categories covered include communication with management, getting work done in apartments, apartment alterations, fire safety plans, emergency evacuation procedures, strike preparedness, etc.
  9. Apartment Files, centralizing a complete consecutive record on each apartment, including purchases and sales, refinancings, alteration records, emergency contact information, and special situations from leaks in the walls to special health conditions that would necessitate extra help in an emergency.

Many of these topics are cross-referenced in other parts of the database.
Once this system is in place, the archivist’s task consists simply in maintaining it. This is easily done if discipline is carefully maintained. The minutes of each board meeting must be carefully culled for new decisions and policy changes, and these must be transcribed in their proper places in the various files.

Management and staff must adopt procedures which prepares for the archivist records of all building events and transactions. It is the team of archivists who decide which of these rise to the level of meriting recording, and who determine in which files the information will be retained.

Dr. Finkelstein’s presentation includes illustrations of the computer program that was designed for her building’s records. Careful protection was incorporated, including a window of opportunity of just a few days after information is entered for it to be proofread and modified. Thereafter, there is no way to alter that entry. Additional safeguards limit access to many parts of the file system. Watch future issues of this Newsletter for announcements of the next presentation of this informative workshop on Institutional Memory.


The American Institute of Certified Public Accountants has developed and distributed detailed a guide for record retention. We reproduce below selections that may be of particular interest to housing cooperatives and condominiums and their residents

Keep Permanently
Appraisals by outside appraisers
Audit reports
Blueprints and plans
Capital stock and bonds records
Cash books
Charts of accounts
Cancelled checks for

  • important payments
  • taxes, special contracts
  • file with papers
  • for the transaction

Contracts, mortgages,

  • leases in effect

Correspondence on

  • legal matters

Deeds, mortgages, bills of sale
Depreciation schedules
Year end financial statements
General ledgers, year-end

  • trial balance

Insurance records,

  • current accident reports, claims, policies

Minute books of directors,
Retirement and pension records
Tax returns and related worksheets
Training manuals
Union agreements
Vouchers/payment to employees, vendors

Keep for 1 Year
Magnetic tape and tab cards
Purchase orders

Keep for 7 Years
Accident reports/claims
(settled cases
Accounts payable ledgers
and schedules
Cancelled checks
(see exceptions at left)
Expense analyses/expense
Expired contracts, mortgages,
Inventories of products, materials, supplies
Notes receivable ledgers and
Option records (expired)
Payroll records and summaries
Personnel files (terminated)
Purchase orders
Stock and Bond certificates
Subsidiary ledgers
Time books/cards
Voucher registers and schedules
Withholding tax schedules

Keep for 3 Years
Bank statements
Employment applications
Insurance policies (expired)
Internal audit reports
Internal reports (miscellaneous)
Petty cash vouchers
Sales commission reports

Keep for 2 Years
Bank reconciliations
General correspondence
Duplicate deposit slips



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