New York's Cooperative and Condominium Community

Habitat Magazine Insider Guide



Going With the Flow

Our 2023 annual meeting had more than a few surprises. First, we couldn’t find a venue. The lobby of our Lower Manhattan co-op is too small, and our community roof deck was too jampacked with Facade Inspection and Safety Program equipment. Zoom was too 2021; with pandemic restrictions lifted, shareholders were happy to meet in person again, and Zoom was an unwelcome step backward. Offers to hold the meeting in someone’s apartment, too, were nonexistent. Acting on a last-minute shareholder suggestion, the board made a deal with our commercial tenant to secure their space at no charge, provided that we held the meeting after the shop closed for the day, and then only for one hour.


The problem is that we are a gabby bunch. Just catching up with our neighbors can take 30 minutes. Then it’s another hour or two to get through the agenda, field questions we already know the answers to, suggest projects we can’t afford, and avoid volunteering to investigate ways that we might.


Trying to contain this meeting in an hour, the board sent an email notifying shareholders about the unusual location and the nonnegotiable time limit. Attached were co-op financials and an annotated agenda with a brief report on each item. This information, we were told, would not be repeated at the meeting. Instead, we would use our 60 minutes to bring up new issues and to vote for the new board. That’s when the second surprise was revealed: The president for the last seven years was stepping down and our longtime treasurer was leaving the board.


Our board rarely sees one change, let alone two. And as long as a few people are willing to run the co-op, the rest of us are happy to sit back and let them. This is especially true when board members share the governing philosophy of the majority: protect our investment in the building while spending as little money as possible. Even newcomers who arrive with grand ideas of how to upgrade life in an old building with no services eventually come around. Or they move. Also, we’re a bit skeptical of those who add their names to the candidate list. More than once, and quite transparently, they’ve done so when they want the board to take their side in disputes with fellow shareholders, when they’re planning a wonky renovation or when they want to tease out a personal benefit from a major project, such as including a new deck for their terrace in a building roof project.


Our departing treasurer has been a careful steward of our finances. Every annual meeting, she patiently fields questions that wouldn’t need to be asked if we simply read the reports sitting in our laps. Newer shareholders often try to impress by bringing up issues that instead reveal that they haven’t looked at the stack of financials and meeting minutes provided before their purchase. These include why we don’t have a reserve fund (because no one wants to fund it), why we have so many assessments (because we don’t have a reserve fund), why we have so many unplanned system failures (because we live in an old building) and my favorite, why we pay our super a union salary (because he’s in the union).


A shareholder who used to fit that description when he moved in a few years ago offered to fill the empty seat on the board and was elected. A current board member would become the new treasurer.


The departing president has been a steady and reliable leader. A wonky apartment renovation in 2019 led to a three-month building-wide gas shutdown that unleashed an army of water bugs when walls were ripped open to access gas pipes. Not coincidentally, the late husband of the renovating shareholder once sat on the board to get their terrace re-decked as part of a building roof project.


The president balanced conflicting opinions about what constituted safety to keep the building running during the pandemic. During the summer and early fall of 2020, he managed the drawn-out repair of our out-of-commission elevator as well as our growing impatience with using the stairs, especially since our rules required residents to wear masks and prohibited delivery people from walking up the stairs to our apartments.


By 2023, like Churchill after World War II, the president had become unreasonably and inextricably connected with deprivation and strife in people’s minds. Unlike Churchill, he was ready to go. In preparation, the previous year he had recruited a fellow board member to serve as co-president. She is now our new president. He is the board secretary and unofficial historian. 


It was surprising how smoothly we adapted to the changes. Without grandstanding or complaining and with only limited socializing, the meeting wrapped up on time. Shareholders greeted the new regime with great hopes for a problem-free, assessment-free year.

Not surprisingly, none of our problems or expenses are magically disappearing. The refreshed board continues to manage the co-op largely by maintaining the status quo. Perhaps the biggest surprise is that by rolling with the changes, we wound up mostly in the same place. And that, it seems, is where we like it.

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?