Sunday, October 28, 2007

Can Parents Move Into a Co-op?

The New York Times
October 28, 2007
Q & A

Q We plan to move out of our co-op but would like our elderly parents to be able to live in the apartment. Since we will still be paying the maintenance, will we have to obtain co-op board approval? Does this constitute a sublet?

A “As usual, it would be necessary to review the proprietary lease to provide a definitive answer,” said Elliott Meisel, a Manhattan co-op lawyer. “This is especially so for this question because the answer may turn on one word.”

Most proprietary leases address who can occupy an apartment. Some allow the shareholder or the shareholder’s spouse, their children, grandchildren, parents, grandparents, brothers and sisters. But the more common proprietary lease substitutes the word “and” for the word “or” in the preceding sentence.

Mr. Meisel noted that the courts have held that the use of the word “and” means the other members of the family may live in the apartment only if the named shareholder also lives there at the same time; they cannot reside there instead of the shareholder.

“Any other occupancy would constitute a subletting,” Mr. Meisel said, and unless the lease contained the less restrictive “or,” the letter writer would have to get the permission of the co-op board for the parents to occupy the apartment.

Address questions to Real Estate Q&A, The New York Times, 620 Eighth Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10018, or by e-mail to Answers can be given only through the column.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Can You Hook Me Up With a Maytag? Most buildings ban private washer-dryers. But that doesn't mean they don't get in anyway

New York Magazine
October 15, 2007
By S.Jhoanna Robledo

When the laundromat near her Brooklyn apartment closed down and a pickup service proved unreliable, Rachel, a photographer, went online and bought a washer and dryer. But she didn't tell her landlord. "We didn't ask for fear she'd say no," she admits. She was right: When her neighbor saw the flattened boxes at the curb the next morning, he recommended she hide them. "I used to have one," he told her, ominously.

The appliances that the rest of America takes for granted are, in all but the newest condos, major luxuries here. The plumbing in many older buildings can't handle them, and others ban laundry machines owing to concerns about overflows and leaks. "It's really a problem," says Sloane Square NYC's Amy Tucker Meltzer, "to buy a $4 million apartment but have to go to the basement to do laundry." For many clients, especially those with children, "an apartment without one is a nonstarter," she says. "I've had people tell me a washer- dryer is more important than a doorman."

Important enough, in fact, for some owners to install a machine on the sly. Appliance stores won't admit it to a reporter, but when a New York staffer posing as a shopper called, several said that they often make clandestine deliveries. Anne, who had a machine shipped to her apartment near Columbus Circle, requested that her neighborhood retailer use an unlabeled box. Branches of one major chain admit to hiring subcontractors—paid in cash—who rewrap machines in TV boxes or camouflage them with bubble wrap.

Rachel says she already plans to disconnect her washer and wheel it into the bedroom if the super needs to enter her apartment. But Anne worries she's been found out: Recently, her washer flooded, damaging her floors. "We're going to say it's the toilet," she says, adding that she's getting rid of the machine. "It's too much trouble, and I don't want to take the chance again." Halstead broker Denise Rosner wants to avoid problems, too, which is why she's showing a one-bedroom on the Upper West Side with a space in the kitchen where a prohibited portable washer-dryer stood until recently. (Some boards, in fact, now check apartments before they approve a sale, she adds.) "People see [it]," she says, "and I tell them, What a great place to have a wine cooler."

Additional reporting by Catherine Coreno.

(Photo: Anthony Marsland/Getty Images)

Friday, October 12, 2007

Co-op applicants draw more scrutiny

The Real Deal
October 12, 1:26 pm
by C. J. Hughes

Despite a national housing slowdown and the credit crunch, Manhattan's real estate sales market continues to hold its own, and the stringent standards of co-op boards have been credited with sheltering the city from the turbulence around the country. But those co-op boards are becoming ever more vigilant.

With the health of hedge funds in question, and the size of year-end bonuses anybody's guess, many financiers once considered shoo-ins for the city's top co-ops now have to be extra careful with their applications, real-estate brokers said.

Co-ops are giving financial-services workers more scrutiny, Fritzi Kallop, a managing director and senior vice president of Brown Harris Stevens, recently told The Real Deal.

"They're becoming more stringent about hedge-fund managers," Kallop said.

Unlike with most condos, buying a co-op requires a rigorous dissection of a buyer's tax records and bank statements. A co-op board also typically demands that the buyer has assets worth at least three times the apartment's value, even after the sale.

Kathy Sloane, a Brown Harris Stevens managing director whose Wall Street clients flock to Upper East Side co-ops, said younger financial service workers might now require a guarantor.

While recommendation letters are becoming more essential, Paula Manikowski, a senior vice president at the Corcoran Group, said co-op boards can't afford to be too picky or they could scare off decent buyers.

Five years ago, 15 percent of the for-sale units in Manhattan were condos and 85 percent co-ops. Now, the share of condos has grown to 35 percent, so co-op boards understand that "if buyers aren't prepared to deal with a certain level of scrutiny, they will head to the condo market," she said.

Another factor that makes searching for co-ops difficult is the limited supply. In a third quarter report released this month, Radar Logic's Jonathan Miller reported that inventory levels for co-ops fell 32.8 percent to 2,472 units, compared to last year's total of 3,680 units. The average sales price of a New York City co-op increased 2.8 percent compared to last year, while the median sales price fell 2.4 percent.

No matter what happens on Wall Street, Michele Kleier, president of Gumley Haft Kleier, said that the "very top Park and Fifth Avenue co-ops are always concerned. They have a Depression-era mentality, and they're always afraid the liquidity won't be there."

Kleier said if the buyer pays mostly cash, co-op boards often believe that a high-income buyer will remain wealthy.

"I had a client who had a $30 million bonus last year, and I doubt he will again," she said. "But if he gets $10 million this time, they're not going to send a collection agency after him."

Peter Comitini, a Corcoran vice president, said the fear that year-end Wall Street bonuses could dip has not influenced most co-op boards, because decisions are typically based on buyers' tax returns for the past two years, and not the current year's expected salary.

Barbara Fox, president of Fox Residential Group, said a client employed by a hedge-fund recently closed on an Upper East Side co-op with a fairly standard presentation, though she said, "I think there could be a difference down the road."

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

The Ansonia Is Plagued by Cockroaches, a Lawsuit Says

The New York Times
October 10, 2007

The Ansonia has been home to Babe Ruth, Igor Stravinsky and Angelina Jolie, but now an Upper West Side couple say that a substantial part of the 14th floor in the historic building has become home to “a horrific plague of roaches.”

The couple, Alan Arkin (not Alan Arkin the actor, but handily for this purpose, a lawyer) and his wife, Suzanne Bagert, a consultant to private equity funds, say that since mid-September, they have hardly been able to sleep at night and have stopped using their kitchen, for fear of the pesky invaders. They started seeing roaches about a year ago and had an exterminator spray, which helped only temporarily.

Ms. Bagert, who works at home, imagines roaches crawling on her neck. “My hair brushes my neck and I scream,” she said in an interview yesterday.

Her husband found a roach in his sock yesterday morning, and Ms. Bagert has stopped cooking gumbo from her native New Orleans, or anything else for that matter, emptying her kitchen of all but a few staples like organic milk, lemons and walnuts.

She goes out for coffee since finding a roach in the coffee maker. She sleeps with the light on, she said, ever since she woke up in the dark and found a roach crawling on her.

So yesterday, after what Mr. Arkin called “a biblical-type explosion of roaches,” the couple filed a lawsuit in State Supreme Court in Manhattan against the Ansonia’s management, Sirius L.L.C., charging them with interfering with their ability to “use and enjoy their apartment” and causing a nuisance through its own negligence and reckless conduct. Mr. Arkin is serving as his own lawyer.

“This infestation,” Mr. Arkin wrote in his court papers, “has rendered their apartment completely unfit to live in.”

The lawsuit, almost breathless in its detailed recitation of the problem, seeks a trial for unspecified damages from the building management.

Mr. Arkin’s lawsuit says that his complaints have been met by “doublespeak and half-truths” from the management. Representatives of Sirius have told Mr. Arkin and his wife that if they are so upset about the roaches they should move, according to the lawsuit, and that management is “doing all they can” and that the couple needs to be patient.

A call and several e-mail messages to Sirius requesting comment on the lawsuit were not returned last night.

In his court papers, Mr. Arkin says that management has said the infestation is caused by an elderly tenant on the same floor who will not allow her apartment to be treated.

The couple lives on the 14th floor of the Beaux Arts building, with its corner turrets and mansard roof, which is said to have been the inspiration for the Hotel Gloriana in Saul Bellow’s “Seize the Day,” and was home to Walter Matthau’s character in “The Sunshine Boys.”

Formerly a residential hotel, the Ansonia converted to condominium apartments in the early 1990s.

Mr. Arkin and Ms. Bagert rent their one-bedroom apartment from its owner, a family friend, they said, for $2,400 a month, though similar apartments in the building on Broadway between 73rd and 74th Streets rent for much more, Mr. Arkin said. Mr. Arkin, 36, has lived there since 1996, and his wife, 39, moved in more recently, but they have never seen anything like this, they said.

They live with a Yorkshire terrier, Cali, who unfortunately does not hunt roaches.

The nadir was the night of Sept. 14, the lawsuit says, when the situation got so bad that the roaches were on the floor, the walls, the ceiling, the curtains and even the couple’s bed.

As evidence, they have collected about 50 dead roaches over the last three days, storing them in a jar, and they are also keeping a log of roach sightings.

Management, he says, has responded by sending a maintenance worker to knock cockroaches off the hallway wall, vacuum them up and then wash the walls with soap and water, a treatment that Mr. Arkin calls “grossly and negligently” insufficient.

Winter Miller contributed reporting.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Couple spent $1.4M on a home but can't get mold out

New York Daily News
Monday, October 8th 2007, 1:09 PM

Sometimes even the very rich cannot solve the ordinary nuisances of apartment living in New York City.

Take the case of Norman and Janet Baker of the upper East Side. They have spent more than $1.4 million to try to stop pervasive leaks and an overwhelming mold infestation in their $4 million, three-bedroom penthouse duplex at Madison Ave. and 80th St.

The mold has forced them and their teenage daughter out of their co-op home with its four terraces and knockout views of Central Park - and has taken over their lives.

"It's not just the money, because you can't buy the months and years back," Janet Baker said.

The Bakers have spent months living at The Carlyle hotel the past four years. One three-month stay cost $35,000. Today they're renting an $8,500-a-month apartment around the corner from their co-op.

The ordeal has spawned a daisy chain of lawsuits. The Bakers sued the co-op board, the building corporation and the managing agent. In turn, those entities sued two roofers, alleging they failed to repair leaks - and the roofers sued the structural engineer.

"And the leaks still haven't been fixed," Norman Baker said. "And we haven't gotten a penny back."

The Bakers' tale shows how the lives of even the most affluent can be turned upside down by circumstance. Their dilemma is one example, albeit severe, of leaks and mold that affect thousands of apartments in the city.

In the fiscal year ending June 30, housing inspectors handed out 13,935 mold violations to landlords of multiunit dwellings. About 15% of those posed an immediate health threat and were ordered corrected within 24 hours.

While mold is typically a problem in rundown buildings, it also affects the high end. Bianca Jagger had to abandon her Park Ave. apartment, and Ed McMahon has filed a $20 million mold suit over his Beverly Hills home.

The Bakers' horror story began in July 2003, when they noticed black splotches on their 26th-floor bedroom wall. An environmental testing company found they had high levels of seven different kinds of mold.

Mold soon ate their carpets and furniture, and the Bakers moved into The Carlyle. In October 2003, they moved back to their apartment after a mold remediation company ripped down affected wallpaper and sprayed and cleaned.

"They came in 'Ghostbuster' suits," Janet Baker recalled.

In December 2003, a structural engineer found damage to the roof above the Baker's apartment and damage to brick and mortar from rainwater.

The Bakers continued to stay in the apartment, but in March 2004, they found broken brick and concrete on their terrace. The city Buildings Department issued a violation against the co-op. Two months later, the first roofer began work, but heavy September rains triggered flooding.

"The Fire Department came because water was pouring out of the electrical panel," said Janet Baker. The firefighters told the Bakers to evacuate. Over the next nine months, the Bakers evacuated and returned seven times.

"Whatever furnishings weren't damaged went into storage," Janet Baker said.

Finally, workers began gutting the once-sumptuous apartment. It turned out the roof, parapets and exterior brick walls were damaged and had insufficient drainage, according to engineers' reports.

They've been living in their two-bedroom rental for more than two years, but have continued to deposit the $5,300 monthly maintenance on their co-op into an escrow account.

"Eighty percent of the time I'm crying, and the rest of the time I have to find a joke," Janet Baker said.

The apartment smells dank and earthy, despite large sections of wood floors, walls and ceilings being ripped out.

Janet Baker charges that the co-op board president and managing agent ignored the problem by insisting there was no mold or moisture.

Bernard Friedman, head of Penmark Realty Corp., the managing agent, did not respond to calls, nor did a lawyer for the structural engineer. A lawyer for the roofers declined comment.

Co-op board President Bernard Klapper wouldn't discuss the case but did say, "I'm not minimizing their difficulties."

Adding insult to injury, the Bakers' home insurance policy does not cover the damage.

"So this is where we are," said Norman Baker with a shrug and a deep sigh, looking out over the terrace. "We're not filing any claim that the mold made us sick, but we really, definitely would like to get our apartment fixed up, and move back in."

Norman and Janet Baker return temporarily to mold-infested home on the upper East Side. Family has been forced to rent another apartment nearby.

Bakers' penthouse duplex shows the ravages of mold and the extensive work that has been carried out in a vain attempt to fix the mess.