Thursday, March 22, 2007

Patches of green: NYC's green developments have moved way beyond Battery Park City

New York Post
March 22, 2007

Slowly, our concrete jungle is turning green. Since 2000, when the Battery Park City Authority announced that all its new developments needed to be energy-efficient and eco-friendly, Battery Park has been the city's unchallenged green spot. Up went The Solaire, the first green residential tower in the United States. On its heels is Riverhouse, the luxury condo set to open at the end of the year, which spent $30 million on its green endeavors. And last Wednesday, the sales office opened for The Visionaire, a 250-unit condo that should be finished next year. By last Sunday, 10 percent of the units had contracts out.

"I've been in the business for 20 years," says Ann Froelich, sales manager for The Visionaire, "and I've never seen a project like this. It's contagious. By the time [buyers] leave here, they're ready to go green!"

But Battery Park City is far from being alone in this endeavor. It seems that much of New York City has been struck by green fever, and it's just a matter of time before many of the new luxe buildings coming to the market will have eco-friendly flourishes.

For starters, just take a look at these new enviromentally responsbile buildings rising all over the New York area.

Meatpacking District

In May, the Meatpacking District will unveil The Modern, an eight-unit luxury rental with a geothermal heating system.

The system will keep electrical and heating bills low and keep the building from using any oil. (Engineers had to dig a geothermal well in front of the building 2,000 feet underground to put in the system.)

The one- and two-bedroom apartments start at $3,900 and go up to $12,000 for the penthouse. The six-story building is a glass and white ceramic-tile-on-concrete exterior and six of the apartments have balconies.

The developers are also extremely excited by the eco-friendly result.

"Strictly from a business point of view, it's a better bottom line," says Joe Sbiroli, principal of Ventura Land Corp., which developed The Modern. "We did a calculation by a business engineer [on savings], and it's pretty dramatic. We're not going to have any oil expenses ... that's substantial. We're probably saving $50,000 to $60,000 per year right there."


Last year, NYP Home reported on The Helena, Hell's Kitchen's first 580-unit green rental. But The Helena is about to see some competition as to who has the biggest, greenest building in the nabe.

The new Archstone Clinton consists of two enormous, eco-friendly towers housing 627 apartments. Still under construction until the end of the year, the building has already opened its doors to about 20 renters, but there are hundreds of units available.

Much of the building looks like any big luxury building; there is a grand lobby outfitted in bamboo (the wood of choice among green buildings - it's easily replenishable) and a state-of-the-art fitness center (the floor of which is made out of recycled tires).

The apartments have some of the finest views of Midtown one can find and there's a swanky screening room (which does not yet have a copy of "An Inconvenient Truth").

One might not think "green" while gazing at all those skyscrapers, but Dan Doern, vice president of Archstone-Smith, would urge you to reconsider. "It's ironic, but New York City is one of the greenest places on Earth," says Doern.

You can think of all the high-density building usage and public transportation from your studio, which starts at $2,600.

Upper West Side

If anything, the Harsen House proves you don't have to be a hippie-dippy tree-hugger to design a green building. Although Harsen House bills itself as the first LEED-certified condo on the Upper West Side (LEED certification is the basic stamp of approval by the U.S. Green Building Council), this project is well within the domain of the luxury world: Andres Escobar is the designer.

This boutique condo, which will be finished in 2008, boasts private elevators, floor-to-ceiling windows, outdoor terraces, Miele appliances, granite countertops, fully equipped gyms and gas fireplaces. Not bad. The energy-efficient hot water system, the ecologically harvested oak floors and insulated glass windows sound like extra perks.

Upper East Side

Across town, Extell is putting up The Lucida, a 110-unit condo scheduled to be finished at the end of next year. It has a filtered air system, a glass curtain wall to keep the building insulated and bamboo finishes that will be designed by the venerable eco-architects Cook + Fox.

The 18-story building has a limestone base; there will be a wood-paneled lobby with a custom-designed chandelier and 10-foot fireplace.

However, you might find yourself surrounded by wee do-gooders in this joint. The units are large and family-friendly - the smallest is a 1,445-square-foot two-bedroom starting at $1.95 million. The largest is a 3,500-square-foot five-bedroom. Along with spa, lap pool, sauna and fitness amenities, the building has a partnership with Kidville, N.Y.


"Over the next five years, there will be more green buildings in Harlem than in Battery Park City," says Carlton Brown, COO of the development firm Full Spectrum, which is designing the Kalahari, a mixed-use condo in central Harlem. "That's something that most people would never guess."

Harlem has been ready for this kind of condo for years. Harlem's asthma rate is way above the national average, and air quality has long been on the wish list for Harlem residents. The 250-unit brick Kalahari will have an air filter on the roof connected to a system of ducts throughout the building that pumps fresh air into the apartments. Also, there's a heating and cooling system that will reduce energy consumption by 30 to 32 percent below the energy code.

When Brown brought his plans for The Kalahari before the local Harlem community board, he received a standing ovation from the board. "That never happens," Brown says. "It freaked me out!"


Even New Jersey has gotten in on the act. The Garden Street Lofts, a high-rise luxury condo in Hoboken converted out of a former coconut warehouse, is applying for a silver LEED certification.

The seven-story building will have a green roof, a water runoff system and a high-end air filter. The 30 units, which have been made out of recyclable materials that give off low gas emissions, range from 1,000-square-foot one-bedrooms to 2,500-square-foot three-bedroom duplex penthouses. They will feature eco-friendly plumbing fixtures (a fixed flow rate of water will conserve water), and all of the finishes from the paint to the kitchen cabinets are all low VOC (volatile organic content). The lofts will be finished in April of next year.


This 627-unit rental has an on-site turbine-generated HVAC system and was built with low-VOC materials. Contact: Jeremy Scholl, Archstone-Smith, (212) 957-8200.


The 22-unit boutique condo with 2-BRs starting at $1.85M will feature ecologically harvested floors and efficient thermal windows. Contact: Iva Spitzer, Corcoran, (212) 873-7200.


An air filter sits atop this 250-unit mixed-income condo with a system of ducts throughout the building that pumps fresh air into the units. 2-BRs start at $650K; 3-BRs top out at $1.6M. Contact: Essence D. Crockett, The Marketing Directors, (212) 348-0090.


The Modern has a geothermal heating system, which required digging a 2,000 foot well out front but will slash energy costs. Contact: Jodi Cowen, JC DeNiro, (212) 229-0388.


This 251-unit condo was built exclusively with low-VOC materials and will feature a high-efficency air-filter system. The central AC is powered by natural gas. Studios start at $625K, 3-BRs go up to $5.995M. Contact: Ann Froelich, Albanese Organization, (212) 425-2550.


These condos will feature a high-end HVAC system, which allows filtered air to flow through the 30 units and a green roof to insulate. Finishes are made from recycled materials. Prices have not been set. Contact: Francesco Mazzaferro, Coldwell Banker, (201) 533-3055.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Flip Taxes: A Pox on Sellers' Profits

New York Times
March 18, 2007
Your Home

NEXT to a proposal to redecorate the lobby, the surest way to get a co-op or condo building buzzing is for the board to propose a flip tax.

Also known as a transfer fee, a flip tax is an amount of money paid to the building upon the sale of an apartment, usually by the seller but occasionally by the buyer. Although flip taxes are almost always imposed as a way of avoiding a buildingwide assessment or an increase in monthly maintenance or common charges, they are never very popular with apartment owners.

"It seems that more and more buildings are considering imposing them," said Bruce A. Cholst, a Manhattan co-op and condo lawyer. "And I think the reason is because many buildings are getting hit hard by Local Law 11 facade work, energy costs and increases in basic operating costs."

Since a building that needs money will have to raise it somehow, Mr. Cholst said, many boards feel more comfortable collecting it from people who are leaving than from those who are staying.

"It never ceases to amaze me how many people oppose flip taxes," he added. "I just helped push one through in my own building. And people said they were opposed to it because it was fundamentally unfair to people who were leaving the building. That was the one argument I least expected to encounter."

Richard Siegler, a Manhattan co-op and condo lawyer, said flip taxes were originally designed to allow a building to share in profits made by residents who bought their apartments at low "insider" prices and then quickly sold them.

The imposition of flip taxes was initially restricted by the courts. In the early 1980s, Mr. Siegler said, they invalidated flip taxes imposed by co-op boards on their own without specific authority under the proprietary leases or offering plans.

The courts also objected to flip taxes that were not imposed on a proportionate per-share basis, because the Business Corporation Law requires equal treatment of shareholders owning the same class of stock.

In July 1986, however, the New York State Legislature acted on a proposal from the Council of New York Cooperatives and Condominiums and defined what would, and would not, be allowed.

Arthur I. Weinstein, a vice president of the council, said that as a result, a flip tax can be imposed by a building's board without having to obtain the approval of the shareholders if the authority is provided in the proprietary lease or offering plan.

(If neither document contains such authority, he said, a flip tax can be imposed only if the proprietary lease is amended. Typically, that requires a vote of a "supermajority" of shareholders — two-thirds or three-quarters of the outstanding shares.)

Dennis H. Greenstein, a Manhattan co-op lawyer who was an assistant attorney general in the real estate finance section, said the law specifically allows co-ops to impose flip taxes that have an unequal effect on owners holding an identical number of shares.

As a result, he said, the amount of a flip tax can be determined in any number of ways. It can be a flat fee, or it can be calculated as a dollar amount based on the number of shares allocated to the apartment by the co-op corporation or as a percentage of the sale price or net profit.

Flip taxes can also be based upon the length of time the seller has owned the apartment, with higher fees typically being imposed on those who have owned their apartments for shorter time periods. (Sponsors and investors who are "holders of unsold shares" are usually exempt.)

Mr. Greenstein added that a number of recent court decisions seem to indicate the courts will allow flip taxes to be imposed in condominiums. But to do that, the condo would probably have to amend its bylaws.

Illustration by Tom Bloom

After an Apartment Is Deregulated ...

New York Times
March 18, 2007
Q & A

Q If the renewal rent on a rent-stabilized apartment goes from below $2,000 to above $2,000, my income for the last two years was over $175,000 each year and my landlord takes all of the appropriate steps to destabilize the apartment, will I be allowed to live out the term of my new lease?

A Yes, with one exception. Sherwin Belkin, a Manhattan lawyer who represents landlords, said that if the Division of Housing and Community Renewal issues an order of deregulation, the order deregulates the apartment upon the expiration of the tenant's current lease.

"The one exception is where the owner renews the lease while a luxury deregulation petition is pending before D.H.C.R.," Mr. Belkin said. In such a case, he said, if the owner attaches a notice to the renewal lease advising the tenant of the pending proceeding, and an order of deregulation is issued, the lease can be terminated 60 days after the order is issued.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Can a Co-op Board Limit Rent Charged in a Sublet?

New York Times
March 16, 2007
Q & A

Q I own a co-op in New York, and I want to sublet my apartment. I understand that the board has the right to approve the sublet, to limit the number of people in the unit to two and to ask for or forgo a sublet fee.

In agreeing to approve the sublet, my board wants to limit the rent I collect to the amount of my monthly maintenance. I need to make $250 a month more than that, and I'm wondering why the board would not allow me to collect the additional money.

A Andrew Brucker, a Manhattan co-op and condominium lawyer, said that most proprietary leases require board approval for sublets. And typically, he said, the board can make its approval of a sublet subject to certain conditions. One such condition, Mr. Brucker said, could be a limitation on the amount of rent charged.

He added that while it might seem odd for a board to limit the rent amount, there is probably a good reason for the board's action. "Most co-op boards don't want their shareholders to be in the subletting business," he said, because they prefer to have as many shareholders in residence as possible and as few rental tenants. "So while they might be willing to allow a shareholder to sublet," he said, "they don't want them to get too comfortable doing so."

At the same time, Mr. Brucker said, not all proprietary leases allow the board to impose conditions for obtaining consent. So, he said, the letter writer should examine his proprietary lease to determine the extent of the board's power to control sublets.

If a Rent-Controlled Tenant Is Evicted, What Then?

New York Times
March 16, 2007
Q & A

Q My neighbor's apartment was under rent control until he was evicted last month. Is the apartment now deregulated, and can the rent legally go to any price? I am interested because my own apartment is rent-controlled, and I'm worried that the landlord will do everything in his power to evict me.

A Luise A. Barrack, a Manhattan lawyer who represents landlords, said that if a tenant is evicted from a rent-controlled apartment, the apartment becomes subject to rent stabilization, and the landlord can increase the rent to the current market rate.

A couple of exceptions come into play. "This is subject to the new tenant's right to file a 'fair market rent' appeal within 90 days if the building contains six units or more," Ms. Barrack said. If the rent is $2,000 or more and the tenant does not appeal, the apartment will be exempt from rent regulation.

Ms. Barrack said that the letter writer should not be concerned about her rent-controlled status unless she gives the landlord a reason for evicting her.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

How Long Must a Co-op Deal Wait?

New York Times
March 11, 2007
Q & A

Q Are there any rules regulating the length of time it takes a co-op board to act on a buyer's application to buy an apartment? It has been over a month since the board package was submitted and two weeks since the board interviewed the prospective buyer. What rights do co-op sellers have in demanding an answer within a reasonable time?

A "When a seller and a purchaser enter into a contract of sale for a cooperative apartment, both parties agree that the transaction will be subject to the co-op board's approval," said Lior Aldad, a Manhattan co-op and condominium lawyer. "Some boards make their decision faster than others, and some are more considerate of the specific circumstances of the individuals involved."

Mr. Aldad noted, however, that unless there is a provision in the bylaws requiring the board to respond within a certain time period, there is no limit on the length of time it can take to act.

He said most co-op contracts provide that if the board has not made a decision before the scheduled closing date, the closing is extended for 30 business days. If consent is not granted by the new date, then either party can cancel the contract upon notice to the other party.

If a contract is canceled because of such a provision, he said, the deposit goes back to the buyer.

Laminated Windows Keep Out the Din

New York Times
March 11, 2007
Your Home

GOOD windows keep out rain and snow, and better windows keep out cold, wind and heat. But most windows aren't very good at stopping noise.

"In apartment buildings and in buildings made of brick or stone, almost all outside noise comes through the windows," said David Skudin, the president of CitiQuiet in Long Island City, Queens, a company that makes and installs soundproof windows.

"A standard window is eliminating something like 40 to 50 percent of outside noise," Mr. Skudin said. "But it is possible to eliminate almost all outside noise without changing the exterior appearance of the window."

The most common way to do that, he said, is to install a second window designed to reduce sound, mounting it on the inside.

"We fabricate and install a soundproof interior window that lines up identically with the existing window," Mr. Skudin said. For example, if the existing window is the double-hung type, with two sashes that move up and down, then the sashes of the soundproof window will line up with them and will move up and down, too.

If the existing window is a slider or a casement window, the interior window will mimic it.

The soundproofing is accomplished, Mr. Skudin said, by using laminated glass for the interior window and creating dead-air space between the interior and exterior windows.

The laminated glass can be anywhere from a quarter to seven-eighths of an inch thick and is made by fusing a clear plastic membrane between two sheets of glass. The dead-air space is created by mounting the interior window three or four inches from the existing window.

"Depending on the thickness of the glass and the amount of dead-air space," Mr. Skudin said, "we can eliminate up to 95 percent of outside noise."

Michael Damelin, the president of Cityproof, another Long Island City soundproof-window company, said that since the interior window does not change the exterior appearance of the building, most co-ops and condominiums, as well as New York City 's Landmarks Preservation Commission, will allow owners to install them. And since the windows do not involve structural work or reduce light and air, a building permit is generally not necessary.

Mr. Damelin noted that while most unwanted noise comes in through windows, it can also creep in around and through air-conditioners.

"If an air-conditioner is mounted in the window," he said, "we will try to mount the soundproof window so that the air-conditioner is enclosed inside it." The soundproof window is then opened when the air-conditioner is turned on. For air-conditioners that are installed through the wall, Mr. Damelin said, Cityproof will build a soundproof enclosure that can also be opened and closed.

Do-it-yourselfers can buy custom-made soundproof windows from suppliers like in Fremont, Calif.

Randy Brown, the owner of the company, said that home or apartment owners take their own measurements, following the instructions on the company's Web site, and send them in. The company then makes the soundproof interior windows to the customer's specifications, using quarter-inch laminated glass.

"If you can use a power screwdriver," Mr. Brown said, "you can install our windows."

He noted that in addition to reducing the noise, properly installed soundproof windows also make the house or apartment more energy-efficient by eliminating drafts.

The price of soundproof windows varies sharply depending on how large the windows are, how thick the laminated glass is and whether the window is installed professionally or by the owner. The price for a 3-by-5-foot double-hung window, for example, can range from $500 to $1,400.

Illustration by Tom Bloom

Friday, March 9, 2007

Who Should Pay for a Heating Unit?

New York Times
March 9, 2007

Q Two engineers sent by my co-op board determined that I need a second heating unit. Am I responsible for installing and paying for this, or is the co-op? Also, the building manager told me that New York City 's Oct. 1 to May 31 heating guidelines do not apply to co-ops. Is this true?

A "The city's heating guidelines apply to all multiple dwellings regardless of form of ownership," said Elliott Meisel, a Manhattan co-op and condo lawyer. He added that in many older buildings, heat is provided by a central boiler circulating steam or hot water through pipes that connect to radiators in the apartments.

Responsibility for providing sufficient heat would typically fall to the building, he said, but it is possible for a co-op's proprietary lease to make the shareholder responsible for the radiators inside the apartment.

In some newer or renovated buildings, each apartment has its own heating and air-conditioning units similar to the ones found in hotels. In such cases, the proprietary lease is more likely to make apartment owners responsible for maintaining these units.

In addition, Mr. Meisel said, it is possible that the heating system in the letter writer's apartment originally met city heating standards but that a former owner removed a heating unit. In such a case, he said, the co-op might hold the current owner responsible for restoring the heating system to its original configuration.

"Without knowing what kind of heating units are in the writer's apartment and what the co-op proprietary lease provides," Mr. Meisel said, "it would be difficult to determine who would be responsible for additional heating facilities."

Sunday, March 4, 2007

Revising the Limits on 'Personal Use'

New York Times
March 4, 2007
Your Home

LAST month, an appeals court in Manhattan ruled that there was no limit on the number of apartments a building owner can remove from rent stabilization for personal use. The decision reverses a State Supreme Court ruling that an owner who was trying to take over all apartments in a stabilized building must first get permission from the state's Division of Housing and Community Renewal.

The unanimous decision of the Appellate Division, First Department, which covers Manhattan and the Bronx, involves Alistair and Catherine Economakis, the owners of a 15-unit building at 47 East Third Street in Manhattan.

In 2003, they started telling tenants that their rent-stabilized leases would not be renewed, so the owners could convert the building to their primary residence. The notices also contained plans for the conversion. In December 2003, the Economakises started eviction proceedings against six tenants who had refused to leave when their leases expired.

In the housing court proceeding that followed, the tenants contended that the plan to evict everyone in the building violated the Rent Stabilization Code. The housing court judge noted, however, that under the code, an owner was entitled to recover possession of "one or more dwelling units for personal use or occupancy," and that there was no limit on how much space the owner could recover.

At that point, five other tenants filed an action in State Supreme Court seeking an order preventing their eviction on the grounds that removing all tenants from the building — essentially removing the entire building from rent regulation — violated the Rent Stabilization Code.

In June 2005, Justice Paul G. Feinman issued a preliminary injunction barring the owners from taking any action to cancel or terminate the tenants' leases.

In April 2006, Justice Faviola A. Soto ruled that the Economakises had violated the Rent Stabilization Code by failing to get Division of Housing and Community Renewal approval before trying to take possession of the building, and permanently prohibited them from continuing with the evictions until they got such approval.

The owners then appealed, and on Feb. 14 the appellate court reversed the Supreme Court ruling. Writing for a unanimous court, Justice Luis A. Gonzalez ruled that "the clear and unambiguous provisions of both the Rent Stabilization Law and Code permit an owner to recover an unlimited number of stabilized units for personal use and occupancy without D.H.C.R. approval."

(Justice Gonzalez said D.H.C.R. approval was necessary only when the owner plans to use the apartments in connection with a business or when the costs of removing violations filed by government agencies equal or exceed the value of the building.)

Jeffrey Turkel, the Manhattan lawyer who represented the owners, said he was not surprised by the ruling because the language of the Rent Stabilization Law is clear. "All we had to do was point the judges to the actual wording of the statute," he said.

Mr. Turkel added that the case was not over. "This ruling itself doesn't authorize anyone's eviction," he said. The owners still have to prove in housing court that they intend to occupy the entire building as their principal residence, he noted.

Dov Treiman, the editor of The Housing Court Reporter, said that while the decision allows property owners (but not business entities like corporations and partnerships) to remove an unlimited number of apartments from regulation for personal use, there was a practical limit to how large a building can be deregulated in this way. "The size of the building will at some point act as a natural kind of cap on the issue of good faith," he said.

Stephen Dobkin, the lawyer who represented the tenants in both courts, said his clients plan to appeal.

Dealing With Deadbeats

New York Times
March 4, 2007
Q & A

Q I am the president of a 29-unit condo near Pennsylvania Station. The owners of one apartment have not paid their common charges for five years. They refuse to respond to any correspondence we send.

The apartment is rented to tenants who claim they have no contact with the owners; they simply deposit the rent in the owners' bank account. What can we do?

A Adam Leitman Bailey, a Manhattan real estate lawyer, said the condominium board should review the bylaws to determine how notice should be given to place a lien on the delinquent owners' apartment.

"The state's Real Property Law provides a condominium board with the power to place a lien against a condominium unit to collect unpaid common charges," Mr. Bailey said. "After filing a lien for any unpaid common charges, the condominium can then file a foreclosure proceeding against the owner if the lien has not been paid."

The foreclosure proceeding, he said, must be filed in State Supreme Court and is similar to the proceeding a bank would file to collect an unpaid mortgage.

"Upon the successful prosecution of a foreclosure action, the unpaid lien would be paid from the proceeds of the foreclosure sale," Mr. Bailey said, adding that the bylaws may allow the condominium to collect legal fees from the sale of the unit.

He added that a mortgage lien would take priority over the condominium's lien, so if the foreclosure sale does not produce enough money to pay off both liens, the condominium will get only what money is left, if any.