New York's Cooperative and Condominium Community

Habitat Magazine Insider Guide



Seer Madness

Cassandra couldn’t catch a break. Famous in Greek mythology as the seer whom no one believed, she would have a grand time if she lived in a co-op or condo today. Imagine if she sat on your board.

“A new shareholder, while submitting an alteration agreement for the renovation of her unit, has made a request,” reports the president at a board meeting. “Can she install a washer-dryer?” Joe and Bob, who have the only two washer-dryers in the building – both in top-floor apartments and both grandfathered in before the prohibition against washer-dryers was passed – are feeling the guilt of the haves when confronted by the have-nots. “I think we should let her have it,” says Joe, a relative newcomer to the smallish Upper West Side property. “I agree,” chimes in Bob, a veteran board member who should know better.

The meeting seems to be going in favor of the addition. Then Cassandra speaks: “There are only two washer-dryers in this six-story structure. They were installed before the small laundromat was added to the basement. The laundromat has been supplied by an outside vendor who shares the revenues with us. Our original concern was that allowing individuals to have washer-dryers could lead to more residents installing them, which could eventually lead to the closing of our laundromat. This could create a new problem: our pipes could burst from the increased pressure of multiple washer-dryers, which would lead to flooding and/or the costly replacement of all our pipes. Also, we would lose the revenue from the laundromat.”

Poor Cassandra. Although she could foresee the future, her curse was that no one would listen to her. They were about to ignore her warning when she got the co-op’s attorney on the speakerphone. He was no seer, but he knew a dumb idea when he heard one. He shot this one down faster than you could say, “Souvlaki.” The washer-dryer was rejected. Not long after, as the alterations were underway in the new shareholder’s apartment, the board received another request: in renovating the bathroom, the contractor had discovered a bricked-up window, one of many that had been eliminated when the property was gut-rehabbed 30 years before. Could they open up the window?

Bob, who had been in favor of the washer-dryer, was now just as firmly against this idea. “This involves penetrating building masonry and exposing us to leaks. Once a new window is installed, the building is responsible for maintaining windows and window sills. If we agree this time, we establish a precedent that could lead to additional windows and window sills for all units.” It seemed like Bob had learned a lesson from the washer-dryer episode. But was it the right lesson? The board was leaning toward rejecting the request when Cassandra spoke again: “Putting a new bathroom window in the bricked-up opening – one that will match all other windows in the building – could prevent mold. It may not be a bad idea.”

Poor Cassandra! Once again, no one would listen to her. But they did listen to the co-op’s engineer. He was no seer, but he knew a good idea when he heard one. After an inspection of the bricked-up opening, he said: “Windows in bathroom areas are never a bad idea. The threat of mold, mildew, and associated problems is greatly reduced. I recommend windows be installed in all bathrooms as renovations occur.” The board voted in favor of the installation.

And Cassandra? Even though no one listens to her, she still serves on the board. And she has learned a lesson too. Speak softly – and always have a professional to back you up.

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