New York's Cooperative and Condominium Community

Habitat Magazine Insider Guide



Wise Selfishness

In my Lower Manhattan co-op, the paradox of giving to get is obvious: The underlying goal of our wise selfishness is to protect our investments.


But in our demographically and economically diverse co-op, that means different things to different people.


Shareholders who purchased raw space in an industrial neighborhood decades ago have seen the value of their apartments soar. Today they are collecting Social Security. And the lower the maintenance, the longer they can afford to stay and not sell their apartments to fund retirement elsewhere. Protecting their investment means avoiding costly upgrades and delaying expensive repairs.


Conversely, shareholders who purchased and renovated more recently in a now well-established neighborhood are unlikely to recoup their outlay anytime soon. Protecting their investment means trying to bring our property value in line with more luxurious buildings nearby. This means opting for everything from cosmetic improvements such as replacing the banged-up metal curtain at the main entrance to having doormen. Also, regardless of how grandly their apartment redo turned out, their early affection for the shabby chic of an authentic old loft building loses its appeal when, after spending all that money, our old elevator breaks down and the building’s water, gas or heat has to be turned off to patch up old pipes.


Our board regularly faces this clash, beginning with the annual election. Everyone wants to further his or her cause by making suggestions and voicing complaints, but only a few are willing to run for the board. When it comes to voting, shareholders are on the lookout for candidates whose interests match their own. Underlying motives are questioned. Does this candidate want to soften the alteration agreement because he’s planning to renovate his apartment? Is that one going to get a deck for his terrace in the upcoming roof work? Is the person who lives on a high floor going to push through replacing the elevator? Will the candidate sporting cycling pants and a helmet try to carve out bike and scooter storage in the basement? The retiree may try to block a new keyless entry system. The dog owner might balk at adding noise fines to the house rules, while the parent battling complaints about her noisy children might fight efforts to enforce carpeting rules in her living room soccer pitch.


Our suspicions soften when it comes to shareholders’ volunteer efforts outside of the building. Every December, one resident (dog owner, high floor) offers neighbors the opportunity to fulfill the wish lists of children living in New York City shelters. Another shareholder (retired, low floor) keeps the rest of us informed of upcoming political forums, candidate debates and opportunities to volunteer in voter turn-out efforts.


But when spring comes around and the annual meeting takes place, we are back to heavily scrutinizing each other. And every year we manage to elect a board. This handful of volunteers represents our many factions: high-, middle- and low-floor residents, single and married residents, parents of young children, retirees, financiers, dog owners, artists and both longtime and new shareholders.


In the end, we have a representative board that operates with enough layers of wise selfishness to ensure that while no one gets what they want all of the time, everyone gets some of what they want enough of the time.

Subscriber Login

Ask the Experts

learn more

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

Source Guide

see the guide

Looking for a vendor?