Today’s news:

Owners of co-ops and condos need Senate ‘ombudsman bill’

Bob Friedrich wrote in his June 17-23 letter that the state Senate co-op and condo “ombudsman bill” (S7958) addresses “a problem that does not exist.” We wish he was right.

At the Alliance of Condo & Co-op Owners, we hear stories every week of self-dealing, fiscal abuse, failure to hold proper elections, harassment and more. Sadly, some boards breach their by-laws and the business corporation law — often flagrantly. When this happens, owners need and deserve tools to facilitate correcting bad behavior without relying on an overburdened and slow court system — especially since, when litigating against boards, owners pay both sides’ legal costs.

Frustrated owners often call us after they have tried the attorney general. Except in limited cases where sponsors or offering plans are involved, the attorney general simply says, “If the situation is serious enough, you may want to retain a private attorney.” No help there.

The attorney general also says, “Remember that members of co-op/condo boards generally want to resolve problems and keep peace in the building.” Friedrich is similarly optimistic: “Board members spend each day working to improve the quality of life of their residents.”

While we would like these statements to be true of all boards and board members, the reality is that, as with politicians everywhere, some are good and some are not.

Exacerbating the problem is the fact that managing agents are unlicensed. Answering to no state agency, they too often owe allegiance to board officers rather than to the association and owners.

While we agree with Friedrich in that a “plethora of organizations” exists to educate condo and co-op boards about their “legal rights and responsibilities,” virtually none wield any enforcement authority or oversight on these matters. Further, buildings whose board members are active in these groups, such as the Council of New York Cooperatives and Condominiums and the Federation of New York Housing Cooperatives & Condominiums, who read Habitat and the Cooperator and attend the seminars and housing forums they sponsor, are not those from which we get complaints. These groups preach only to the choir.

Finally, Friedrich manages to complain in one breath that this bill is an “unfunded mandate” and in the next that the bill’s built-in funding is an unconscionable tax burden. It cannot be both. The actual cost is $6 — per apartment, per year — and most owners we know would find this “burden” most welcome.

ACCO strongly supports the ombudsman bill. We believe this legislation will provide to hundreds of thousands of New York residents resources and support to help them achieve and maintain democratic representation, fair play and accountability in their housing communities. Where housing associations already enjoy these things, boards need only to continue their management practice and remain accountable to owners.

Friedrich is a long-time co-op board president. Half of our directors and the entire ACCO executive committee are or were board members themselves, including sitting and past presidents. We all know this job requires hard work and long hours and is often thankless. We also know how gratifying it is to run a building well on behalf of all owners and to build an enduring sense of community that transcends brick-and-mortar concerns, thereby enhancing the quality of life.

Larry Simms

President

Alliance of Condo & Co-op Owners

Manhattan

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