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Board Talk: Upstairs, Downstairs

Upstairs, Downstairs

Sue: How involved must a board be during private owners’ renovations? The board has approved plans, hired an outside architect to review plans and do site inspections, has contact with contractors, [and it is expected that] individual owners take full responsibility. During the lengthy renovations, the floor below has claimed damages. [The resident] states debris falls from ceiling on a daily basis. Demands the job be stopped. Contractors and unit-owners are more than willing to clean, repair, etc. But, downstairs unit-owner doesn’t allow anyone into home and doesn’t make it easy for contractor to schedule anything. Yet, owner complains “nothing is being done.”

Renovation floor has been nothing but gracious, and prior to the work being done ask[ed] if they could take some baseline pictures. Downstairs owner refused. Seems owner just wants to write threatening e-mails to board and upstairs neighbors and is not interested in finding a resolution. The board has gone out of [its] way to address problem but the bigger problem seems to be litigious owner making demand after demand. At this point, isn’t this a tenant-to-tenant issue?

VP: From the moment a shareholder sends a complaint letter to the board, the co-op is responsible and liable to resolve the issue/violation. It doesn’t matter that the shareholder is being perceived as a pain. The corporation, via the managing agent, must schedule an inspection of the apartment below to assess claimed damages – and try to defuse the situation.

Sue: What happens when the complaining unit makes incorrect statements and accusations and doesn’t allow contractors in unit to correct or solve problem? He just plays the victim role and demands job be shut down.

VP: Was his unit inspected? Was damage caused? Not allowing anyone in his/her unit can forfeit his claims. Your managing agent should document everything. It would be best to seek legal counsel in those situations.

Mikel: Bottom line is that documentation of everything is key, and since this interaction seems headed toward a legal interaction, that documentation must be performed correctly and consistently. Check the proprietary lease for the acceptable method of sending notices.

Print out two copies of each of the complainant’s e-mails. Respond to each e-mail with typed hard-copy letters referencing the e-mail specifics and send those letters by certified mail, return receipt requested. This way you get proof of delivery, and if your recipient refuses delivery, you get your letter back as proof that you attempted delivery. Sending a certified letter is usually taken to mean it was received whether or not the recipient actually takes possession of the letter. Keep a separate hard copy of your responses attached to the USPS postmarked certified letter receipt in a file for proof that you responded to the complainant.

Restate the complainant’s issues in your responses and state what you need to do to resolve the issue, i.e., the superintendent needs to enter the apartment on a specific date and time to inspect this damage. Then when the complainant refuses to allow entry, send another certified letter documenting that refusal. Write these letters as if you are reading them out in court in front of a judge, as that is eventually what will likely happen here. Once you have several letters proving that you tried to resolve the issue by entering the apartment but faced refusal, notify the complainant that the board is concerned that the complainant is obstructing necessary access to assess possible damage.

The board has a right to enter with adequate notice, and a responsibility to enter if there is reason to believe that there is structural damage occurring to the building due to the renovation work. Documenting all of the communication is the difficult and time-consuming part and if it’s not done, you will regret it later in court. One needs printed paper, and unless the proprietary lease specifically authorizes alternative methods of delivering notices, you will not have any hard evidence of this.

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Learn all the basics of NYC co-op and condo management, with straight talk from heavy hitters in the field of co-op or condo apartments

Professionals in some of the key fields of co-op and condo board governance and building management answer common questions in their areas of expertise

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