New York's Cooperative and Condominium Community

Habitat Magazine Insider Guide



Sara Hewitt's Legal Expertise Helps Tackle East 73rd St.'s Challenges

It’s no brag, just fact: Sarah Hewitt has good business sense. A graduate of Williams College and Cornell Law School, she’s currently a partner at the law firm Fox Rothschild, where she specializes in mergers and acquisitions and corporate finance transactions. But for nearly 30 years, Hewitt has carved out time to serve on the board at East 73rd St., a 13-story, 88-unit building that is one of six cooperatives on the block collectively known as Eastgate. Hewitt spoke with Habitat about how her job skills have helped her meet the challenges of being a board president. 

Hewitt’s comments have been edited and condensed for clarity.

Appearances count. When I moved here in 1996, I was looking for a specific type of apartment with a terrace and a fireplace, and as a prewar fan, I thought the Eastgate buildings were really beautiful. I had been a board member at my previous co-op, and during my admission interview at East 73rd St., I was asked to run for board. I joined within three months and have been on the board on and off since then. My current turn as president started in 2019. 

A pile of projects. At the time, there was concern that we needed a more team-oriented board to improve governance and oversight of the building and its operations. There were water drainage issues in our rear courtyard, and the leakage had caused rusting in about 30 steel support columns in the basement. The water leakage also caused the ground and sediment beneath a few areas of the basement to settle, creating voids between parts of the basement floor and the ground underneath a portion of the building. We were very concerned, especially in light of the 2021 condo collapse in Surfside, Florida. New York City may be built on bedrock, not sand, but it is important to maintain the structural integrity of older buildings like ours. 

On top of that, the wall in our service stairwell was damaged and collapsing, and two of our three main sewer pipes needed to be replaced. We also needed to upgrade our laundry room, lobby and hallways. And the ninth cycle of our FISP repairs was coming up.

Money matters. The building had operated in a fairly cost-effective manner with adequate maintenance increases. Even so, our maintenance is on the low side of the average for the neighborhood. But there wasn’t a large reserve fund. We were able to refinance our mortgage at just 2.75% interest, which was a real coup. We had to take out a second mortgage in 2023 but got a fairly good interest rate, given the environment. We started a modest two-year assessment in late 2022, giving people the option to pay over time or upfront at a discount.

Done and done. We’ve since redone the entire courtyard, including installing a new drainage system and filling in the voids. The column repairs were completed last winter, which was a huge relief. The work was noisy, dirty and very disruptive, and also delayed our laundry room renovation because three of the room’s I-beams were badly compromised. Now we’re doing facade repairs along with three other buildings at Eastgate. We actually banded together and interviewed contractors who could work for all the buildings with the goal of lowering the cost, since they were getting four jobs instead of just one. The plan worked. 

Carbon cutting. As for Local Law 97, we’re actually in good shape in terms of the first round of fines. Our boiler already has a gas connection in addition to the oil connection currently in use. We need to line the chimney, and we’re in discussion with Con Ed to install an access line to our street for free by entering into a cluster agreement with some neighboring buildings. We’ve also addressed some of the low-hanging fruit items by upgrading to LED lighting in the common areas and installing motion detectors so the lights are on only when someone’s in the area. When we did the courtyard repairs, we did some work to seal the building. We’re also thinking about replacing the windows, but that’s going to be several years out if we go ahead with it.

Group effort. I think we’ve made quite a lot of progress, and that’s because we have a very cohesive seven-member board, with everybody contributing different skill sets. I approach problems as I would any client’s legal issue: by gathering as much information as I can from experts, studying all the options and discussing with my board colleagues the best path forward — and then making sure the solution is implemented, ideally on time and within budget. Part of my duty as a lawyer is community service, and that includes serving on the board. So it’s a big part of what I do in my spare time. And I love that it’s such a friendly and warm building — and dog-friendly too. I have just one, but a lot of residents have two. In fact, we have almost as many dogs as people here.

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?