Sunday, December 21, 2008

... And No Renovations in the Lobby

December 21, 2008
... And No Renovations in the Lobby

WITH the recession taking firm hold and the number of jobs lost in New York City expected to grow by as many as 150,000, co-op boards across the city are doing what they can to help keep costs down for shareholders.

As boards determine next year’s budgets, many are opting to postpone large projects to help minimize increases in maintenance charges.

“Boards are concerned about passing along increases, and they’re taking a hard look at projects that might be discretionary,” said John Janangelo, the president of Bellmarc Property Management, which manages more than 50 buildings in Manhattan and Queens.

Dated lobbies and dowdy hallways may not get a makeover for another year, he said, and upgrades on security cameras or health clubs may also be deferred. But repairs on essential systems like air-conditioning or boilers will still be approved.

And if there is anything positive in the economy’s implosion, it’s a decrease in fuel costs. There were big spikes in energy costs in the last two years, which put maintenance increases at 10 percent on average. But maintenance increases in 2009 will probably be much lower, Mr. Janangelo said.

At 300 Riverside Drive, the co-op board made several decisions that will ultimately reduce the overall monthly bill for shareholders in 2009. “We did these things because we understand that these are difficult times,” said Jon Reiner, the co-op board president.

The building had a net gain of $500,000 when it refinanced its mortgage at a lower rate this fall, and the board initially planned to use that money to shore up its reserve fund, redesign the lobby and begin construction on a roof deck. Because of the economic downturn, the board decided to proceed with the lobby renovation but put off the roof deck.

The board also voted to use some of the proceeds from the refinancing to retire debt, which will eliminate a monthly assessment worth about 6 percent of each shareholder’s monthly maintenance. Even with a 3 percent increase in maintenance fees, shareholders will still get a 3 percent reduction in overall costs.

“In other years, we might have decided to proceed with the roof deck,” Mr. Reiner said. “But what we’re doing will be a benefit to shareholders in the tough year that we will be facing.”

Co-op Boards Get Tough and Tougher

December 21, 2008
Co-op Boards Get Tough and Tougher

WITH sales of co-ops and condominiums in New York City slowing to a virtual trickle in recent weeks, many brokers suspect that would-be buyers are sitting back and hoping to time their apartment purchases to coincide with the exact moment that the real estate market finally hits bottom.

Some sellers, meanwhile, are considering renting their homes instead of selling them in hopes of avoiding that bottom. And if they are trying to sell co-ops, they are hoping that the co-op board will loosen the rules and help widen the buyer pool by allowing the purchase of pieds-à-terre or permitting parents to buy for children.

But brokers, lawyers, property managers and co-op board members agree that if anything, co-op boards are going in the opposite direction — more carefully scrutinizing potential buyers and establishing tougher financial requirements.

“No one is loosening their admissions policies,” said Stuart M. Saft, a lawyer and the chairman of the Council of New York Cooperatives and Condominiums. “What’s going on in the market has just reconfirmed their belief that they have to be watchful of who they let into the building.”

The rigorous financial review that most co-op boards have long required of buyers is precisely what has kept the foreclosure rate in New York City extremely low, Mr. Saft said.

“Boards feel that protecting all of the residents of the building through strict policies is the best thing they can do,” he said.

Frederick Warburg Peters, the president of Warburg Realty, says that boards are not likely anytime soon to relax rules on who can buy into their buildings. “A co-op board tends to see itself as a guardian of the shareholders who remain in a building,” Mr. Peters said, “not as a facilitator of sellers.”

With financial markets in crisis and unemployment rising by the hour, many co-op boards are looking very skeptically at buyers who have large stock portfolios or who earn much of their income in year-end bonuses that may not materialize.

To counter that and to satisfy the concerns of co-op boards, these buyers are finding that they must either increase their down payment to 50 percent of the sale price or more, or put six months’ to two years’ worth of maintenance into an escrow account.

Some boards have also made it clear that they prefer buyers with fixed-rate mortgages over those with adjustable-rate mortgages; buyers with interest-only mortgages need not apply. These are not the sorts of requirements that appear in the bylaws or the house rules, but in this market, word gets out quickly after a board rejection.

“If you get a board turndown, you can ask how to improve the application,” said Richard Grossman, the executive director of downtown sales for Halstead Property. “I’ve seen some approvals lately where the board tried to work with the buyer, either by asking for money in escrow for maintenance or for additional down payment to increase the equity in the apartment.”

Robert J. Rosa, an executive vice president at Century 21 NYC, said that’s exactly what happened in a recent deal. He represented a father buying an alcove studio for his daughter on East 21st Street. The father, an investment banker, planned to take out an interest-only mortgage even though he had about $10 million in liquid assets and could easily have paid cash for the studio.

Board members told Mr. Rosa that they wanted the father to get a fixed-rate mortgage. And because the daughter earns only about $50,000 a year, they also requested that a year’s worth of maintenance, about $10,000, be put in escrow. The buyer said he would agree to those terms, even though it would increase the mortgage rate and require a higher down payment, but he told Mr. Rosa to seek a 20 percent price reduction from the seller.

“I said: ‘You’re crazy, the owner won’t agree to that,’ ” Mr. Rosa recalled. But to his surprise, the owner agreed to about a 10 percent reduction.

“He was annoyed, but in this market, he didn’t want to lose the deal,” Mr. Rosa said. The apartment, which had been listed at $517,000, sold for $462,000.

These kinds of circumstances have inadvertently given co-op boards much more authority over deals than they had when they merely said yes or no to a potential buyer, according to Paul Gottsegen, the director of property management at Halstead.

He said he had seen several deals recently in which co-op boards had asked for a year’s maintenance in escrow and, rather than risk losing the buyers, the sellers had agreed to put the money into the account on behalf of the buyers. “Buyers are scarce and sellers are anxious,” he said. “So a board’s determination can give it a great deal of power over the actual contract between the buyer and the seller.”

Real estate agents say they have also heard of co-op boards that rejected applications because they believed the sale price was too low and would adversely affect the values of other apartments in the building.

Lisa Lippman, a senior vice president at Brown Harris Stevens, says such behavior is characteristic of transitional markets.

“Everything is going to be below 2007 prices, and it’s going to take awhile for boards to get used to those prices,” she said. “But the risk they run is: if they reject a contract for being too low, the next one could be even lower.”

A co-op board that believes it is protecting property values by rejecting low bids is being unrealistic, said Richard Siegler, a Manhattan lawyer who represents about 150 co-ops. “You can’t keep prices fixed forever,” he said. “And it affects everybody at some point, because eventually nobody can sell their apartments.”

If the market slowdown follows the pattern of previous ones, one area where co-ops may start to loosen up is subletting. Brokers and property managers said they expected to see that happen next summer, about nine months into the market’s decline.

“It’s only when shareholders have had their places on the market for nine months or longer that it’s clear there’s trouble, and they become clamorous for help,” said Mr. Peters of Warburg.

Mr. Siegler said that co-op boards had used subletting as a safety valve in previous downturns. If an owner has already moved out, renting the apartment might prevent that owner from going into default and could also ensure that the building continues to collect maintenance charges for the apartment. “Subletting would allow them to continue owning until prices go back up and the market is stabilized,” he said.

At Two Fifth Avenue, a 20-story building with more than 300 apartments, Adelaide Polsinelli, the co-op board president, said that several shareholders had already asked if they could rent their apartments as an alternative to selling.

The building previously allowed sublets for only one year in the entire ownership of a shareholder or two years if a shareholder could prove hardship. But the board decided this month to extend the limit to two years for all shareholders and up to three years in the event of hardship.

“It was in response to the times — a way to give people options and pre-empt them from having to struggle,” Ms. Polsinelli said. “I’ve been around a cycle or two, and I thought I’d try to get in front of the problem.”

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Alternative pets for buildings that are not pet-friendly

December 28, 2008
The UnDog and the NonCat

IN a city awash in creature comforts for those who can still afford them, a few remain unattainable at any price. Some New Yorkers who yearn for the comfort of creatures — specifically, cats and dogs — find themselves stymied by their apartment buildings’ restrictions on pets.

But just as city dwellers are accustomed to settling when it comes to real estate, many aspiring cat and dog owners turn to other species to satisfy their yen for a cuddle, companionship or wish to convey childhood lessons in responsibility.

A partial list of things that slither, hop, glide, swim or scurry beyond the purview of co-op boards, landlords and occasionally, the law, includes chinchillas, parrots, bearded dragons, tortoises, pythons, fancy mice, monkeys and ferrets, along with a more pedestrian assortment of gerbils, guinea pigs and goldfish.

Many owners of these creatures swear that their offbeat choices have turned out to be nearly as satisfying as a dog or a cat.

Consider Pounce, the free-range rabbit sharing a two-bedroom apartment with Jennifer Edwards, Jim Gaherty and their sons, Dylan, 13, and Liam, 10.

Before Pounce arrived last April in their Upper West Side no-dogs-allowed co-op, the family had owned beta fish and gerbils.

“The big problem with any of those is cleaning the cages and tanks, and when there’s no payoff, it’s kind of a drag,” said Ms. Edwards, 44, a health care policy consultant whose allergy to cats ruled out a feline solution to the family’s desire for a more interactive pet.

“I had no interest in living with birds because they’re not my style — they’re in my airspace,” Ms. Edwards said. “It was hard to figure out a pet that would be acceptable to me and cuddly enough for the kids. I thought maybe turtles or some sort of reptiles — they’re not cuddly, but they don’t jump out of your hands.”

A rabbit didn’t enter their thoughts until the day Dylan happened upon a floppy-eared Holland lop at a pet store. As he wandered around the shop cradling the 12-week-old bunny, Ms. Edwards recalled, “people started telling us how trainable rabbits are — how they can be litter-box-trained and you can let them out of their cages.”

They took the rabbit home and within a month (during which Pounce litter-box-trained himself) they gave him virtually free rein over their two-bedroom apartment. (Pounce’s occasional misfires take the form of odorless hard pellets about the size of an M&M.)

“He’s a lot more petlike than I expected,” Ms. Edwards said. “Rabbits like company, and they’re smart.”

Pounce typically spends his days with Ms. Edwards in her dining-room-cum-home-office. The plump six-pound rabbit nibbles on timothy hay and the edges of low-lying folders.

When the boys are home, the rabbit may decide he needs some quiet time under the sofa. Or he may lounge attentively between Dylan and Liam while they play video games. Later at night, he snuggles up against the adults on the sofa for television.

To be sure, Pounce has his naughty side. Rabbits are notorious chewers, and Pounce is no exception. He has gnawed through electrical cords and the corners of doors and drawers (now sealed with clear packing tape to prevent further incursions). Pounce has also denuded more than one potted herb plant left on a seductively low-hanging shelf.

He also sheds enough to warrant Ms. Edwards’s use of the vacuum cleaner once or twice between her housekeeper’s biweekly visits, and the special recycled paper lining his litter box needs to be changed twice a week to prevent odor.

On the other hand, unlike the dog the family had initially wished for — and now could have, thanks to a recent change in building pet policy — Pounce doesn’t bark, need grooming or demand to be taken for walks.

Mr. Gaherty, 45, a geophysicist, wasn’t consulted on the decision to adopt Pounce. But he sounded affectionate toward the rabbit in a nonpublic, indeterminate-pronoun kind of way.

“I’m a dog person, and you can’t say it’s like a dog,” Mr. Gaherty said. “You can use food to make it responsive. Rabbit food smells better than cat food, litter boxes smell bad either way, and rabbits chew but cats scratch, which is probably worse.”

Like the Edwards-Gaherty family, would-be dog owners usually list interactivity high on their list of desired pet qualities, which is why many choose birds as a substitute.

“Birds are extremely intelligent,” said Linda Pesek, a veterinarian at the Center for Avian and Exotic Medicine on the Upper West Side. “They can recognize their owners, and they can interact.”

Tonia Misvaer couldn’t agree more. She and her husband wanted a dog, a pet prohibited by the lease on their rented apartment on the Upper West Side. They bought their first avian, a small parrot known as a lovebird, on impulse four and a half years ago.

“Yogi had a lot of personality,” said Ms. Misvaer, 33, a graphic designer. The couple trained the bird to go to the bathroom in its cage and gave it unfettered access to their 900-square-foot duplex.

“We were surprised that they make really interesting pets,” Ms. Misvaer said. “He had a chest of toys he played with on the floor, and he particularly liked to push things off bookshelves. We both liked him a lot, although he didn’t like my husband. He would poop in his shoes every once in awhile and drop things on his head.”

After Yogi died from a melamine-poisoned treat a year and a half ago, the couple bought two more birds.

“We wanted a little bit better of a parrot — one that could maybe talk and live longer,” she said. They settled on Swami, a Meyer’s parrot, and Odin, a Jardine’s parrot.

“They’re both quiet birds and fairly small,” Ms. Misvaer said. “A lot of times when people think of parrots they think of huge macaw parrots. But Swami is six inches and Odin is seven or eight inches tall. They don’t squawk or scream, so they’re good apartment birds.”

So far, the birds have learned a few words and can dog-whistle. (Swami can also wolf-whistle, which Ms. Misvaer discovered while riding with him on a crowded subway.)

The facet of avian husbandry that has surprised Ms. Misvaer most is how time-consuming it is.

“A dog will hang out and sit on your lap or take a nap,” she said, “but birds are constantly active. I mean, they’ll sleep a lot, but they demand a lot of attention. Odin has terrible separation anxiety. When I’m in the apartment he will run across the floor and look up at me until I pick him up and put him on my shoulder. Also, if you want a healthy parrot you really need to cook. We spend maybe 30 to 60 minutes a day preparing food —cutting up fresh fruit and vegetables and baking bird bread.”

It’s common for neophyte owners to assume that birds are low-maintenance creatures, said Stephen L. Zawistowski, an animal behaviorist and the executive vice president and science adviser for the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

“They’re not a great pet if you’re out of the apartment all day,” Mr. Zawistowski said. “They need company more so than a cat. If you don’t interact with birds, they can develop behavior problems, and as a form of anxiety they will actually pick out their feathers.”

Mr. Zawistowski says many bird owners are also stunned by how loud birds can be. For apartment dwellers, he recommends finches, especially the hardier zebra and society varieties: “They tweet a lot, but they’re not superloud. They’re interesting and active. You don’t need a massive cage. And you can keep several of them, so you don’t have to worry about social questions.”

Parakeets are louder, more active and comical, he said, while “canaries have been an immensely popular bird in the city of New York since the mid-1800s.”

“But with apartments you have to be very careful of cleaning products and pesticides, and the Teflon frying pans release fumes on the stove that are toxic to birds,” he said, “so you have to keep them away from the kitchen and the cleaning products.”

There is also the matter of keeping pets away from the neighbors: Tales abound of escaped hamsters, among other things, that wind up in someone else’s apartment.

This is of special import in a no-pet building, as most buildings with restrictions on pets prohibit any sort of animal — not just cats or dogs — without the permission of the board, said Lisa Breier Urban, a real estate lawyer with Breier Deutschmeister Urban & Fromme in Manhattan.

“That’s not to say people don’t go to the pet store and buy whatever they want,” she said. “It’s much easier to harbor a pet in the building if it’s not a dog. Unless the animal is a nuisance, the buildings in general are not going to enforce the rules.”

Typically, the nuisance consists of a foul odor coming from an apartment with cats, but not always.

“We had a case where someone had two or three rabbits and they were not keeping the cages clean,” Ms. Urban said. “The neighbors complained about the smell, and the building required that the people get rid of the rabbits. And we had a case a couple of years ago where a rent-stabilized tenant had a lizard that ate crickets. The crickets were shipped in by mail, but somehow they got out all over the building and they had a huge cricket problem.”

Beyond the special challenges presented by their sometimes hopping diets, reptiles frequently require high temperatures and humidity levels to thrive.

Some owners, however, appreciate reptilian reserve.

Evan Cohen has lived with a five-foot-long iguana, Roxy, for the past 11 years in a studio apartment in Greenwich Village. The iguana is house-trained (each morning it relieves itself in a paper-towel-lined bathtub, which Mr. Cohen scrubs down with bleach afterward) and wanders freely through the 525-square-foot dwelling.

“I think that to him, this is his apartment, and he’s letting me live here,” said Mr. Cohen, 36, a former jack-of-all-trades who is now an undergraduate student at Columbia University. “I think he’d prefer it if I wasn’t living here. I admit he’s not a snuggly type of animal, but that never really bothered me — you can still pick up a 13-pound-lizard and hold him and pet him as much as he’ll tolerate.”

Alice and Morgan Dontanville were barred by their lease from getting a dog, but wanted something that was cuddly as well as quiet, clean and relatively low maintenance. Back in high school Mr. Dontanville had owned an intelligent and extroverted rat; this led them to consider something in the rodent family. They eventually settled on a chinchilla.

“Chinchillas have the advantages of the other rodents — they’re friendly and they respond to you — without the weird tail,” Ms. Dontanville said. “He looks like a cross between a small bunny and a giant mouse with a squirrel-esque tail. He has tiny little feet and legs and a big, pudgy, unbelievably silky body.”

The Dontanvilles bought their first chinchilla several months ago at a pet store. After a couple of weeks, it fell ill with an intestinal blockage and, $2,000 in vet bills later, had to be euthanized. After learning more about the proper care and feeding of chinchillas (don’t give them pet-store food, recommended Ms. Dontanville, or keep the temperature over 75 degrees), they bought their current chinchilla, a six-month-old male named Ajax, from a breeder in Brooklyn.

Ajax lives on Ms. Dontanville’s former craft table a few feet from the kitchen, inside a 32-inch-high black-wire cage made for rats. He is conveniently nocturnal, springing to life around 9 p.m. after the couple come home from work to their garden apartment in Sunset Park, Brooklyn. Several evenings a week they take Ajax out of his cage for a romp in the chinchilla-proof second bedroom. (Chinchillas will chew practically anything, including much that is harmful to them.)

“At first he was hiding a lot, but now he’s sitting on my lap a lot,” said Ms. Dontanville, adding that she and her husband had become surprisingly obsessed by Ajax. “He’s very affectionate and responsive but doesn’t really like to be held yet — you interact more than cuddle with him.”

Grooming consists of an excited wriggle in a metal container about the size of a shoebox, filled with a specially purchased ash-like dust. And while chinchillas can’t be completely house-trained, their arborio-rice-size droppings are easy to sweep up.

Much like dogs, Ms. Dontanville said, chinchillas care about and respond to attention from their owners. “You feel like you really matter, and he loves your attention the same way a dog really loves human attention,” she said. “It’s the appeal of a puppy without the daily walks and the pooper scooper.”

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Dealing with bedbugs

New York Law Journal article written by Stroock lawyers, RICHARD SIEGLER and EVA TALEL
November 5, 2008

Bedbugs present a challenge for co-op and condominium boards: is the apartment owner or the board responsible for eradicating an infestation? This column addresses this novel issue and discusses cases in New York and other states dealing with damage to persons and property from bedbug infestations. This column also provides guidance to boards and managers in dealing with bedbug infestations in co-op and condominium buildings.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Co-ops look to Glass before renovations

October 26, 2008
This Man Could Ruin Your Renovation Plans
A version of this article appeared in print on October 26, 2008, on page RE1 of the New York edition.

Chester Higgins Jr./ The New York Times

NO NONSENSE The austere office of Elliott Glass belies his position as the arbiter of co-op renovations at hundreds of apartment buildings that hire him.

ELLIOTT GLASS answers the door of his office dressed in cuff links and tie, an odd-seeming formality since he is alone in the five-room office suite. Yes, the sign on the office door at 200 Park Avenue says Glass & Glass Architects, but he has no partner. The other Glass, his father, died more than a decade ago.

He has no secretary or associates, no decorations on the wall. For that matter, his office has no Web site, e-mail address or even a computer — especially odd for a modern architect. Mr. Glass, who is 73, does have a telephone, but is rueful about it. He deals with co-ops, and “the shareholders can find you if you are listed,” he said sadly.

But the austere, even stubborn, old-fashioned utilitarianism of his office belies his position in the New York real estate firmament. Thousands of Manhattan’s most elite co-op dwellers do not break a wall or move a sink without Mr. Glass’s approval.

Mr. Glass is perhaps the most prominent reviewing architect in the city. Hundreds of apartment buildings in New York — including many pricey and exclusive ones along Fifth and Park Avenues — retain him to review shareholder renovation plans before they can be approved.

Over the years, the rich and powerful have learned about the otherwise invisible Mr. Glass the hard way: when he rejects a plan to expand a bathroom over someone else’s bedroom or vetoes a kitchen expansion that calls for rerouting main water or gas pipes.

Attempting to circumvent the City Planning Department? Please. Mr. Glass has no patience.

“You know the album cover for the original ‘My Fair Lady’?” asked Erika Belsey, whose firm, Belsey & Mahla Architects, specializes in high-end residential renovations. “Eliza’s the marionette, being manipulated by Henry Higgins, being manipulated by God? That’s Elliott Glass: he’s the god behind the co-op boards, controlling your renovation.”

“When he says you can’t put your washing machine where you want it, forget your distinguished position as editor in chief, C.E.O. or university president,” she continued. “You do what he says — no questions asked.”

Mr. Glass plays down his power, pointing out that ultimately the co-op boards requesting his services make the final decisions based on the reports he writes.

But then, as he admits, they rarely disagree with his conclusions. That’s because he is extremely knowledgeable and accurate, said Paul Gottsegen, the director of property management at the Halstead Management Company, which oversees 80 buildings. “When challenged, I don’t think he has ever been wrong on interpretations of the building codes, which are byzantine.”

Take extensive rooftop renovations, which in Mr. Glass’s opinion are among the most “egregious category of submissions” that he receives, because they impose elements that could adversely affect the overall building. “Several months ago, a designer submitted a plan to develop a penthouse roof with planters that the drawings indicated were solid steel weighing 2,000 pounds each,” he said, his voice rising in disbelief.

But code — while Mr. Glass’s strong suit — is not his only concern. He also considers the building’s best interest, a subject matter open to interpretation. In his reports, Mr. Glass is careful to delineate which concern he is addressing.

While board members and managing agents come and go, Mr. Glass has been in business for decades. In his mind, and in his 60 black metal file cabinets, he has meticulously cataloged renovation histories.

He often knows more than residents do about their co-ops’ policies on arcane matters that become relevant only occasionally — say, whether they will allow stairways between combined apartments.

Steven Harris, the founding member of an architectural firm, estimates that he has worked on 25 apartments with Mr. Glass over the years.

“He is a kind of treasure in a kind of antediluvian way,” Mr. Harris said. “You can ask about the building; he remembers 30 years ago. With other building architects, there is no institutional history.”

Mr. Glass sees all of his decisions as based in reason even when not based in building code. Take the current fad for stoves with pot-filler faucets, for example. He is against them. Not just because it seems silly to him that someone could not walk across a kitchen to fill a pot under a sink, but because a water faucet without a drain under it seems like an invitation for water damage.

Sometimes, his reasoning is broader. Mr. Glass is hesitant to allow people to expand bathrooms over other people’s bedrooms. The issue is not only building wet over dry, which could lead to a disastrous leak. He is also thinking about noise. “A leak happens once, and it is terrible,” he reasons, “but midnight flushing is for the rest of your life.”

He adds, “Noise is the issue buildings receive complaints about the most.”

Patrons and architects routinely ask to move main gas lines, steam lines and water lines so that they can expand kitchens — a move allowed by code. Yet routinely they are denied by Mr. Glass and the buildings who employ him.

As it turns out, Mr. Glass was the reviewing architect for the co-op in the lawsuit in the late 1980s that set the precedent on this.

In Levandusky v. the One Fifth Avenue Apartment Corporation — a highly cited precedent in co-op litigation — the defendant claimed that he had the right to move a steam riser to expand his kitchen, and the building claimed the right to have a stop-work order to prevent the alteration.

The New York Court of Appeals eventually made the tenant move the pipe back, and the case has become cited because it legitimized a board’s right to act within the building without judicial interference.

In the lawsuit, the defendant said that Mr. Glass had given him oral approval for the move. Mr. Glass, however, wants everyone to know that he gives oral approval for nothing. All his recommendations are in reports, neatly and swiftly typed on his electric I.B.M. typewriter. And if every tenant moved the risers, he observes, the systems would be far less efficient.

Occasionally, however, co-ops choose not to heed Mr. Glass’s advice.

There was the time when a television personality bought a floor-through apartment in a prewar building and proposed converting it into a one-bedroom by changing all the additional bedrooms into bathrooms or walk-in closets. Mr. Glass worried that it would hurt resale values, but the co-op let it go, saying the next owner would just change it back at his or her expense.

Mr. Glass shrugs it off. After years of watching the wealthy flood Manhattan and do extensive renovations, no excess surprises him.

He has seen it all: the multimillion-dollar gut renovation that spread across three years. The couple who bought on Fifth Avenue facing the park and then requested so many plantings on a terrace that it blocked their views. A sudden insistence on $30,000 French stoves that require more ventilation than can be reasonably accommodated. He sighs, “Odds are no one will really cook on them anyway.”

For the record, Mr. Glass lived in a rental most of his life. Only recently did he buy into a co-op, in Union Square. But he has no plans to get involved with its decision making.

Still, perhaps no one knows the interior life of co-ops better than he.

Mr. Glass grew up in the Bronx, the son of an architect. His father, M. Milton Glass, was prominent in city planning and a partner in the architecture firm of Meyer, Whittlesey & Glass, which designed Butterfield House on 12th Street and 220 Central Park South, among others. He was always intrigued by the family business and received a five-year degree in architecture from Cornell University in 1957.

He meant to get into design, of course. But his real business, that of reviewing others’ work, developed in the 1960s. It came about almost by accident when a client called his father to resolve a dispute. He sent Elliott, and the son began being called in to write reports.

The business built slowly in the 1970s and then exploded with the boom in converting rentals into co-ops in the 1980s. Now, Mr. Glass says, even though his services run $350 an hour, he has more work then he can handle.

He could hire an assistant, but it is not his style.

He is alone in the office and prefers it that way. Communications can be vexing. “If I had a computer,” he said, “they’d bombard me with e-mail.” He means co-op shareholders.

They find him anyway, through the telephone, although they are not supposed to contact him directly.

Usually they are calling, he said, because their designer didn’t warn them that they would have to file with the New York City Buildings Department, a process that is not only expensive but frustratingly time-consuming.

“They are angry; they are always needing to move, their wives eight and a half months pregnant,” he said.

He is understanding but also understandably unmoved.

“Just recently I got a call from a guy who was angry because he insisted a neighbor did the same amount of work and didn’t have to get approval.” he said. “But I looked it up and sure enough the neighbor had done a lot of work, but he hadn’t moved any walls so he didn’t need approval.”

Mr. Glass shakes his head.

So what did the angry guy do? “Nothing he could do,” Mr. Glass said. “When you are right, you are right.”

Photographs by Chester Higgins Jr./The New York Times

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Co-op residents don't own their front door

Oct 01, 2008 02:08 PM
A Clinton Hill cooperative board is enforcing a rule that no decorations can be put on doors without board approval. One resident had to remove a magnetic American flag he put on his door to commemorate a relative killed during the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. There was a law passed in 2005 that protects a person's right to display the America flag on his or her own property, but the law does not apply to co-ops. "In a co-op you don't own; you have possessory-use right for inside the apartment," but not apartment doors, an attorney said.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

To Make Ends Meet, More Risk Eviction To Run 'Hotels'

Beware of people in your building doing this.

To Make Ends Meet, More Risk Eviction To Run 'Hotels'
By JACLYN TROP, Special to the Sun | September 4, 2008

Guests staying at Josh Garcia's apartment in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, have flooded his bathroom and spilled red wine on his sheets, but he collects $125 a night by providing them with Wi-Fi access, fresh linens, and a key to his place.

Joshua Garcia

"I could get evicted, technically," Mr. Garcia, a 27-year-old engineer, said of the informal hotel he runs from his two-bedroom apartment. Without the boarders, though, he said he could not pay his $2,500 rent.

Capitalizing on a loose definition of "roommate," students, retirees, and people between jobs are exploiting the gray area in the city's housing code to supplement their income by renting out rooms to tourists. Most rooms range between $50 and $150 a night, a fraction of the $325.94 average daily hotel rate in June, according to the city's tourism board, NYC & Co. The rooms, available everywhere from tenements on the Lower East Side to luxury apartments on the Upper West Side, are advertised on and through Web domains.

While New York City does not have a law forbidding these temporary boarders, operating a de facto hotel out of an apartment "probably runs afoul" of the law, a real estate partner at the law firm Morrison & Foerster, Andrew Weiner, said.

"It's almost universal that conducting a quasi-hotel business in your apartment violates the terms of any residential lease," Mr. Weiner said. "Most leases prohibit daily rentals of units."

Fearing eviction, tenants take precautions to stay anonymous and instruct their guests to identify themselves to neighbors and landlords as "friends visiting from out of town."

"I try to fly under the radar," a retired computer consultant in Staten Island, who declined to provide his last name because of the possible illegality of these hotels, said. His Web site,, promises guests a harbor-facing bedroom in a safe neighborhood for $80 a night, or $90 for a couple.

NYC & Co. has not issued an official advisory warning tourists to avoid these unofficial hotels, but has been pressing the City Council to look into the issue, a vice president of travel and tourism public relations, Christopher Heywood, said.

"During these tough economic times, people may be trying to make a buck, but it's not legal and it's not appropriate," Mr. Heywood said. "At the end of the day, it's not smart."

New York City has 73,600 hotel rooms and is expected to add another 12,000 rooms by 2010. "It's not as if there's no room at the inn," he said.

The apartment-as-hotel trend appears to be a grassroots phenomenon, with both Mr. Garcia and the Staten Island retiree saying that they modeled their business plans after what they consider to be the original blueprint,, run by a Manhattanite who declined to be interviewed for this article.

Although many leases do not have specific clauses prohibiting tenants from renting rooms in their apartments, most landlords are opposed to the practice, the director of government affairs for the Rent Stabilization Association, Frank Ricci, said. The trade group represents 25,000 New York City property owners and agents.

"They're profiteering off someone else's property, which they shouldn't be doing, but because it's tenants doing it, the government tends to turn a blind eye to it," Mr. Ricci said.

Meanwhile, even proprietors who don't have a spare bedroom to rent are thriving.

A 47-year-old Upper West Side resident who also declined to give her name said she is renting out an alcove above her closet as a "sleeping loft" for $100 a night to make ends meet while she is between jobs.

"One day I just looked around and thought, 'I can put a twin bed up there,'" she said. She said she hired someone off Craigslist to build a ladder to the loft, which she had previously used as storage.

"I can't really afford to live in Manhattan," she said of her $2,300 one-bedroom apartment near Central Park West. "I needed money."

Renting by the night is more lucrative than taking on a roommate, she said. She can make $1,500 each month by renting, but would only be able to charge a roommate $900 at most, she said.

Some proprietors said they had difficulty figuring out how to relate to guests, balancing an impulse to help and a responsibility to remain behind the scenes. A successful host must serve as a businessman, tour guide, and concierge, according to Mr. Garcia. "You have to be able to wear many hats," he said.

"It leaves a peculiar psychological impact," the Staten Island retiree said. "I have a tendency to treat them as personal guests, but I can't mother them because it's a professional relationship and they probably don't want to be mothered."

This includes erasing his presence from his own apartment. "I don't think they want to see my toothbrush in the bathroom, so I keep it on a shelf in the kitchen," he said.

Although opening their homes to strangers does raise concerns about safety, tenants said telephone screenings and Web searches weed out undesirable guests. It is important, however, to have a backup plan if they do not feel comfortable opening the door when their guests arrive.

"It hasn't happened yet," the Upper West Sider said, "but I'd tell them that there was an emergency and my mother was coming."

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

HUD files discrimination charges against no-pet co-op,0,1420908.story
HUD files discrimination charges against no-pet co-op
August 13, 2008

The owners and board of a Rockville Centre no-pet co-op building violated a disabled senior's rights when they tried to evict the dog she keeps for emotional support, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development said in filing discrimination charges.

Mary Pasko, 90, who is diagnosed with depression and lives with her daughter in the co-op, said her toy poodle Coco gives her a reason to get up from bed and barks when she knows her owner needs something.

"I don't think I'd be around if it wasn't for her," said Pasko, who has arthritis, a spinal disorder and other illnesses. "She's like medicine for me. If I have her with me, I seem to feel better."

But the board at The Hartley House sued to evict the dog, said HUD and daughter Joan Anzelone. She filed a complaint and board members responded that Coco was "simply a companion pet" because there was no proof the dog helps Pasko's depression.

"We're not unfeeling about this," said board member Paul Verbesey. "The question is 'Are there other alternatives?'" Co-op owners could not be reached yesterday, and Verbesey said the board has not discussed HUD's charge.

Three years ago, the co-op approved the pet of a live-in caretaker coming to tend a dying resident.

In Pasko's case, Verbesey said Coco was supposed to be there only temporarily and residents have complained after moving there specifically because of the no-pets rule.

HUD said it charged the owners and board with discrimination because The Fair Housing Act calls for "reasonable accommodation" on no-pet policies for people with physical and mental disabilities, once a doctor's note is provided, which Pasko had from a psychologist. The case will be heard by an administrative law judge or in federal court.

Pam Walsh, HUD's director of the Office of Policy, Legislative Initiatives and Outreach, said housing discrimination cases involving animals are not uncommon but she's seeing more involving people with emotional disabilities. "I would not call them pets," Walsh said. "These are assistant animals."

Pasko moved in with Anzelone seven years ago and left Coco with a daughter in Pennsylvania. Owner and dog traveled for visits, until the other daughter died two years ago and Coco came back to Pasko. The family was unsuccessful looking for a new home and could not find anyone to take Coco.

"Without Coco, I am very depressed, sad and always crying," Pasko said. "I will never, never give her up."

Mary Pasko with Coco at home in Rockville Centre. (Newsday Photo / Thomas A. Ferrara / August 13, 2008)

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Selling excess solar power back to Con Ed

Great idea for condo & co-op buildings to do.

The New York Sun
Construction Company To Sell Excess Solar Power Back To Con Ed
By Associated Press
August 12, 2008

THORNWOOD — A New York construction company has become the first Consolidated Edison business customer to use a system under which excess power generated by its solar panels can be sold back to the utility.

The chief executive officer of C.W. Brown Inc., Renee Brown, says the "net metering" system conserves energy while saving the company money.

After the company uses whatever it needs of its own solar energy, any surplus is forwarded to Con Ed, which credits the company's account. If a cloudy day means the company comes up short on solar energy, it uses Con Ed power and draws down its account.

The switch was thrown Monday at Brown headquarters in Thornwood.

Some residential customers already use net metering.

Moinian digs geothermal pump for co-op

I've blogged on this in the past, but here's another relevant green article.

New York magazine
It’s a Green Gusher!
What are they drilling for on the Upper East Side?
* By Susan Burton
* Published Aug 10, 2008

Wells are things in fables or rural areas—and, now, the Upper East Side. The red drilling rig on East 67th Street is digging developer Joseph Moinian a 1,500-foot-deep geothermal well to heat and cool the triplex at 655 Park Avenue he’s renovating with his wife, Nazee. The drilling started July 18 and should take about a month, irking the neighbors the whole time. (“They did the best they could, but it doesn’t really get rid of the noise,” said the manager of a doctor’s office next to the rig.)

Approximately 100 permits for geothermal wells have been requested in Manhattan over the past eight years, according to the Department of Environmental Conservation, and about 35 wells are in use, including at Diane Von Furstenberg’s HQ, the General Theological Seminary, and a Chelsea apartment building. Ivan Pollack, one of the Moinians’ engineers, says that installing geothermal in Manhattan costs about $150,000 more than central air but pays for itself in seven or eight years. “It’s the next big frontier for the superrich,” he says. “Who’s going to be greener?” Still, the Moinians are going green for a more practical reason: 655’s co-op board members didn’t want a noisy new HVAC system disturbing their courtyard.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

The cost of home heating in New York City is going up

Conserve, conserve, conserve...

July 17, 2008
U.S. Report Shows Spike in Energy Costs for Households in New York Region

From May to June, the cost of residential energy use in the New York metropolitan region shot up by 10.8 percent, the biggest increase in any month on record, according to the latest report on inflation from the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics. The price of electricity, which rose more than 15 percent in that period, was the main driver of the overall cost of household energy.

Power bills have been rising fast in the region as utilities have passed on the surging cost of fuel. Locally, the price of fuel oil was more than 75 percent higher than in June 2007. Con Edison said last week that residential customers would be charged about 22 percent more this summer than last.

Over the past year, the cost of household energy has risen more than 18 percent, according to the report. The escalation of energy prices easily eclipsed the fast rise in the cost of food. Prices of groceries and other food consumed at home rose 6.4 percent in the past year, which was the largest change in any 12-month period since June 2004.

The overall rate of consumer price increases in the metropolitan area in the last 12 months was 4.5 percent. That was the highest annual rate of inflation in the region in almost two years but was lower than the national rate for the past year, 5 percent. From May to June, the local inflation rate was 1 percent.

In the metropolitan area, the only prices that have not been rising sharply have been for discretionary items, like clothing, household furnishings and entertainment, the report showed.

The price of clothing in the region dropped more than 5 percent last month and is down by more than 3 percent over the past year, a reflection of the weakening job market, said Michael L. Dolfman, the regional commissioner of labor statistics.

“When the job market is strong, people go out and buy some clothes, interview suits,” Mr. Dolfman said.

Rising rents also contributed to the surge in the cost of living. In the metropolitan area, rents rose 0.7 percent in June, about double the rate recorded in each of the previous seven months. Over the past year, rents have risen 4.8 percent, the report showed.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Boards reject Wall Streeters

July 13, 2008
Rich, but Rejected

ALMOST overnight, investment bankers and others on Wall Street have gone from being Manhattan’s most aggressive apartment buyers to real estate pariahs.

As financial services companies continue to cut jobs and bleed billions of dollars, their employees have far less cash to spend on high-priced apartments, and very little optimism about taking a risk right now anyway.

Those in the financial industry who still want to buy real estate are often unable to persuade lenders and co-op boards to work with them.

The biggest problem is that buyers who work on Wall Street no longer have the guarantee of huge bonuses to bolster their financial status. And even those who continue to get bonuses are finding that banks and co-ops will not let them count all that money as part of their income, because unlike a salary, it can fluctuate wildly.

Workers in financial services-related businesses make up roughly 25 to 30 percent of Manhattan buyers, according to estimates by Halstead Property. Although some lenders and building boards are accepting these buyers after tightening requirements, others are becoming far more interested in buyers outside the financial industry.

“They’re looking for people who have stable incomes that are not so market dependent,” said Melissa Cohn, the president of the Manhattan Mortgage Company, who has noticed the changing standards regarding bonuses in the last month.

Lenders, she said, fear that “bonus levels won’t be the same in 2009 as they were in 2008” and will no longer take any risks.

The problems facing buyers from Wall Street won’t necessarily cause Manhattan apartment prices to slide drastically, said Diane M. Ramirez, the president of Halstead Property, though they could result in slightly less competition for properties and prompt more sellers to negotiate.

Buyers who work in finance are having trouble with both co-ops and condominiums. Some co-op boards are rejecting bankers even when they appear to be financially qualified, or they are demanding as a condition of approval that many months of maintenance payments be provided upfront.

Tighter home mortgage standards are also affecting some condo sales.

In the past, Wall Street workers would count most or all of their year-end bonuses to qualify for mortgages, often borrowing amounts that covered 90 percent or even 100 percent of the purchase price of high-end condos. Now, some lenders allow buyers to count just a third of their bonus. A banker who qualified for a $3.75 million mortgage a year ago based on a $250,000 salary and a $1 million bonus now qualifies for only a $1.8 million mortgage with the same salary and bonus.

At the same time, some lenders are demanding 25 percent down, rather than just 10 percent. Thus, a banker who went to contract on a $4 million apartment a year ago with a $400,000 down payment now has to come up with $600,000 more to close the deal.

The bonus situation is expected to get worse before it gets better. Alan Johnson, the managing director of Johnson Associates, a company that tracks compensation data, said that Wall Street bonuses are projected to be 30 to 40 percent lower in 2008 than in 2007. “It’s going to be the toughest year in at least five years,” he said.

He predicts that bonuses will not pick up until 2010.

The buying habits of bankers also matter more during this slowdown because the financial services industry has become a larger percentage of the city’s economy than ever before.

Rick Wohlfarth, a Manhattan real estate broker for three decades, said that during the economic slowdown of the late 1980s, fewer people had Wall Street jobs and he could count on a more diverse pool of buyers.

Now, his firm’s 18 agents are advising 60 clients who work in finance and are struggling to buy or sell apartments when market conditions have turned against them.

“This downturn is more profound because it has hit the largest customer base we’ve had,” he said.

The slowdown in sales, however, has not yet hurt Manhattan apartment prices. Data released earlier this month show that while the number of transactions fell, the average apartment sales price of $1.6 million is a third higher than a year ago, according to Halstead. These numbers have risen mainly because of high prices for brand-new condos at 15 Central Park West and the converted Plaza Hotel.

While many bankers and other Wall Street workers interviewed for this article would not speak for the record because they feared being laid off or jeopardizing their severance packages, their lawyers, real estate brokers and mortgage brokers said they were struggling with shrinking bank balances and new buying standards that in some cases might mean they could lose apartments they had already signed contracts to buy.

Peter Graubard, a real estate lawyer, said that about 5 percent of his firm’s clients were struggling to get financing on apartments that they decided to buy a year ago, when the buildings were still under construction.

One couple, who both work in finance, put down a $250,000 payment for a $2.5 million condo at the Element at 555 West 59th Street. Then they lost their jobs. Even though the husband found a new job, the lenders won’t give the couple a mortgage because their salary total has dropped and they depend on bonus income.

By the July 7 deadline, the couple had not found a lender willing to give them a mortgage. So they sent a letter to the developer that day asking for more time, the ability to assign the contract to another buyer before closing or the option to buy a less expensive apartment in the building.

Other buyers are simply backing out of deals. Josh Guberman, the chief executive of the Core Development Group, found that bankers had been his most active buyers on his five condo projects in the last decade. But in the last three months, four bankers have backed out while negotiating contracts at his buildings at 157 East 84th Street and 433 East 74th Street because they were worried about the financial markets or couldn’t get mortgages they wanted.

Mr. Guberman said the most striking case involved a buyer who had signed a contract and paid about $20,000 in architecture and engineering fees before backing out of a $5.7 million apartment at the building on 84th Street. His deposit was returned.

“Our base of clients for years was always the finance guys,” Mr. Guberman said. “They were the guys who stepped up.”

Mr. Guberman has now started educating buyers about changing lending standards well before going to contract. He tells them not to expect to include their bonus income when qualifying for mortgages. He also advises them that lenders will require them to make 25 percent down payments, supply 12 months of financial and bank statements and four to five years of tax returns. (He previously told clients they needed three months of documents and two years of tax returns.)

Other bankers are trying to stay away from deals that require co-op board approval. Chris Poore, a broker for the Corcoran Group, recently worked with a banker who bid on an $800,000 co-op and had the offer accepted. But the banker withdrew the offer when he heard that co-ops were tightening requirements and not factoring bonus income into deals, and instead bought a sponsor unit co-op that didn’t require board approval.

In some cases, co-ops are rejecting bankers outright.

Felix Nihamin, a real estate lawyer, recently advised a couple who work in finance and who tried to buy a $740,000 co-op on East 77th Street. While the husband and wife felt their jobs were safe, they took steps to ensure board approval. They put down 20 percent of the purchase price, offered a parent with a multimillion-dollar net worth as a guarantor and offered to pay extra maintenance costs upfront. Under these terms, a lender approved them for a $560,000 mortgage. But the co-op board rejected them before even meeting with them.

“Everything else was perfect,” Mr. Nihamin said. “The board did not like that they received the chunk of their income from bonuses.”

Michele Kleier, the president of Gumley Haft Kleier, recently represented a woman buying a three-bedroom co-op on the Upper East Side. At the time, the financial company that employed the woman had suffered so badly from the subprime mortgage crisis that she did not receive a bonus for 2007.

The co-op board asked her for seven years of tax returns and detailed references showing how much she was valued at her firm. After the review, the board accepted her. She moved in late in the spring, and soon after, obtained a higher-paying job at another company.

“They took a risk on her and said that they thought she was very bright,” Ms. Kleier said. “She wasn’t somebody they thought was just lucky.”

Amy Herman, a Halstead broker, recently prepared one client who works for a top bank for his board interview for a one-bedroom prewar co-op in the East 70s.

In addition to providing salary and bonus information, her client gathered numbers about how many people had been laid off from his bank, how the firm’s layoff numbers compared with other major banks’ numbers and how his division had performed. He also assured the board that he wouldn’t go to business school and take on student loan debt or try to sublet the apartment.

Ms. Herman said one thing in his favor was that his career in finance was short enough and his salary low enough that his bank still paid him in cash and not company stock. So the board accepted him and he moved in last month.

Ms. Herman fears that some bankers may not be willing to work so hard to impress boards.

“It’s a really fine line,” she said. “If they do start hunkering down and go to an extreme toward people in the financial world, you’re going to absolutely see a decline in prices. That’s one out of every three buyers that you’re going to be eliminating or giving a hard time.”

Sunday, July 6, 2008

The Noise Children Make Is a Growing Source of Complaints

The New York Times
July 6, 2008
The Noise Children Make

APARTMENT dwellers in New York City have long endured the trauma of jackhammers, Manolo Blahniks, recycling trucks, sirens, canines and air-conditioning systems.

But, perhaps because the population of children in the city is increasing, the sound of little feet is a complaint being voiced with increasing frequency. And, for reasons ranging from a sense of entitlement to the impossibility of teaching a 3-year-old to glide to the potty like a supermodel, the parents of those little feet are not happy to hear that their children are driving you crazy.

Many, in fact, have heard just about enough of it. They complain that they are being forced to choose between being good neighbors and good parents. “It’s nerve-racking to be constantly shushing my kids and not letting them be normal kids in the morning,” said Janeen Thompson, who lives in a postwar rental building in Park Slope, Brooklyn. Her two young sons — ages 5 and 2 ½ — have elicited multiple noise complaints from their downstairs neighbor, a 25-year-old woman with no children.

In the morning when the boys are getting ready for the day, Ms. Thompson said, she insists they not roll their little cars down the hallway, or run before 8 a.m. “I tell them the neighbor is still sleeping, and they just look at me — ‘Why is she sleeping?’ ”

Ms. Thompson said she can’t even let her children cry when they need to. “For six months straight, my younger son woke up at 2 a.m. — we kept him quiet for two hours every night so the neighbor wouldn’t hear him,” she said. “Finally, we had to post signs in the building saying we were going to let him cry it out for a weekend, so our neighbor wouldn’t get mad at us.”

The downstairs neighbor, who agreed to give her first name, Jennifer, but not her last, out of fear of being branded antichild, said the children were waking up every single night in the middle of the week, which prompted her to pound on the ceiling after midnight, triggering an even noisier altercation with the children’s father. “The bedrooms of the parents and children are really far apart, so I don’t know if they can hear the children,” she said.

But what bothers her the most, she said, is the sound of the children running — “they don’t walk, ever,” she says — particularly before 8 a.m., when she gets up. “I try to be sympathetic but it’s very hard for me to relate to them because I don’t have children,” Jennifer said. “It’s exhausting. Even my boyfriend doesn’t ever want to come over — it’s so horrible.”

According to the professionals drawn into disputes about child noise — managing agents, lawyers, mediators and acoustical engineers — square-offs like these are increasingly common.

“Fifteen years ago or so, it used to be that the noise complaints were all about loud stereo and TV equipment,” said Stuart M. Saft, a real estate lawyer at Dewey & LeBoeuf in Manhattan, which represents about 100 full-service co-op and condominium buildings in Manhattan. “Now it’s kid noise more than anything else, and I think it demonstrates the changing demographic of the city. You have more kids living in the apartment buildings, and parents who feel their children have the right to be children.”

At the same time, even as New York City has become a magnet for young families, the escalating price of real estate has contributed to the feeling that people ought to get what they want and expect for their money.

“People’s expectations of quiet for their very expensive apartments have risen, so something that might not have bothered somebody 20 years ago because real estate was so inexpensive then does become an issue now,” said John Hauenstein, the president of JRH Acoustical Consulting Inc., which assesses and mitigates child noise issues.

Parents, meanwhile, feel persecuted.

The problems of an Upper West Side mother who did not want her name used, out of fear of reigniting old tensions, began four years ago. Two days after she and her family moved into their $1.8 million prewar unit, they received a hostile missive from the 30-something married couple living below.

“It was a typewritten note in a typewritten envelope with a formal return address. It said something like, ‘We never heard a sound from the older couple who lived in your apartment, and now that you moved in, our peace is being disrupted and we don’t appreciate it.’ It set such the wrong tone, almost like a lawyer had sent it, and we had been in the building less than a week. It would have been better even if it had just been handwritten instead of typed. It was like the punishment didn’t fit the crime.”

Still, she said: “I wanted to take the high road. They left their phone number so I called and introduced myself and left ours.” It was a decision she quickly came to regret.

Despite the wall-to-wall carpeting in her children’s bedrooms and a firm policy against bouncing balls indoors and leaping off beds, she fielded a series of “incredibly nasty” telephone calls that “were confrontational, upset and accusatory, not like, ‘Hey, do you mind — it’s getting a little noisy.’ ”

“Over the course of the next year, we felt we were living on eggshells,” she said. “It became almost a mantra, saying to the kids, ‘The neighbors, the neighbors.’ ”

A frosty détente set in when the couple downstairs had their first child two years ago.

“I think you become a more sensitive person when you have a kid — you have to become more tolerant and understanding,” the Upper West Side mother said. “You kind of realize that life is not as tidy as you’d like it to be.”

Indeed, the vast majority of child-noise complaints are said by those called to intervene to be lodged by neighbors with no children or grown children. Trouble also tends to flare when a family replaces an especially quiet resident, when renovations render layouts incongruent (so that a hallway now runs over a bedroom, for example), and when neighbors have different sleeping schedules.

Deborah Orr’s former downstairs neighbor, a lawyer in her 30s with no children, waited six months after moving in to complain about the noise produced by Ms. Orr’s son and daughter, who were 4 and 1 at the time.

“I think she tried a little too hard to tolerate it, then I think basically she kind of snapped,” said Ms. Orr, 40, a music publicist who lived in a Park Slope brownstone co-op. “When she complained, we bought thick rugs and pads, but I think it was just too late.”

Still, Ms. Orr and her husband tried.

“There was a point,” she said, “where every time the kids would go into the hall we would get this kind of twitchy ‘don’t run — walk, walk.’ We probably tried a little too hard to eliminate the noise because we wanted to have good relationships with the neighbors and to have good kids that other people enjoy being around and not like this focus of resentment. They were not doing anything outrageous. They were just doing normal kid things. But small children, especially toddlers, have this clumsy flatfooted walk. It’s impossible to control.”

The Orrs eventually moved, because they wanted more space.

Parents who hope to avoid having angry neighbors are not presented with many good choices in New York unless they can afford a house. Many of the prewar buildings and brownstones that seem especially solid are worse when it comes to noise.

“Any building that has a wood beam floor construction” — which includes most prewar buildings up to six stories tall — “is going to be more prone to these problems,” said Mr. Hauenstein, the acoustics expert. And even high-rise prewar buildings, with masonry floors, don’t necessarily live up to their reputation for being quiet. The insulation, which resembles ashy debris, can settle over time, and contractors sometimes remove it by mistake during renovation.

Postwar construction is hit or miss as well. Concrete floors are common but can mean little in terms of noise-proofing without a good underlayer or a dropped ceiling below, Mr. Hauenstein said.

Meanwhile, acoustical engineers say they are fielding a rash of noise complaints from owners of fancy new condominiums who never thought to inquire beyond soundproof windows.

“There’s been a rush to develop apartments, and in that rush I think developers have been taking shortcuts,” said Alan Fierstein, the president of Acoustilog Inc., a Manhattan acoustic consultant. “I see these amazingly flagrant violations of the building code with regard to soundproofing. Typically I see floors that don’t have the required insulation or they don’t have the proper resilient materials in the floor above or ceiling below. If the space is hollow, it tends to amplify or make booming sounds, which are very difficult to stop unless you put in good insulation or padding.”

For acoustical engineers, business is also booming from co-ops, which are increasingly taking a preventive stance on noise control in an era where expensive apartments often entail extensive renovations when they change hands.

“In many cases they’re combining apartments, so now you have a problem with people putting walkways where there was just a bedroom before, so it’s no longer bedroom over bedroom or kitchen over kitchen,” Mr. Fierstein said. “They’re also worried that people are coming in with new giant stereo systems and home theater media rooms.” Because of that, some co-ops are demanding that new buyers put in soundproofing when they renovate.

Michael J. Wolfe, the president of Midboro Management, which manages about 75 buildings in Manhattan, encourages neighbors to talk it out first. “If they don’t want to, we set up an inspection in the apartment and make sure it’s in compliance with the lease,” he said, referring to rules in many buildings requiring that 80 percent of a floor be covered with rugs. The type of rug matters too. “A throw rug with no padding would certainly make a lot of noise,” he said.

If the problem remains, according to Mr. Saft, the lawyer, boards will often have a sound meter installed in the afflicted apartment to determine whether the sound is excessive. “At least half the time it doesn’t show enough noise,” he said. “At that point the board sends a letter saying they looked into the situation and the noise is not excessive and the complainant should be more understanding of their neighbors.”

The other half of the time, parents must address the problem, such as by agreeing to limit their children’s activities to certain types, times and locations. Failure to comply can trigger fines by co-op boards along the lines of $100 per violation. Theoretically, parents who own their apartments could be forced to sell them. Though Mr. Saft said he had never seen a family turned out on the streets, he said co-op boards frequently threaten to cancel proprietary leases.

In resolving conflicts, face-to-face communication works best. “It may feel like you’re parroting, but literally just repeat back to them what you heard them saying in a calm and neutral voice, so they’re able to feel they’ve been heard enough and it’s your turn to talk,” said Elena Bayrock, the assistant director of the Manhattan Mediation Center, a nonprofit group that provides free mediation services. In mediation, solutions often revolve around sleep schedules, work patterns, and floor plans.

“By now, I kind of know that our bedroom is over their bedroom and if we drop stuff on the floor it’s really loud for them, so if the baby has a loud toy I just shut the door so she doesn’t come in,” said Margaret Hundley Parker, a 39-year-old freelance writer who rents a postwar apartment on Prospect Avenue in Brooklyn.

“We do indeed walk on eggshells, and I find myself on tiptoes if I have high heels on, even when I’m not home,” wrote Ms. Parker in an earlier e-mail message. “I’m a trained monkey. But my 19-month-old is not.”

“We’d love to move,” she continued, “but did I mention the rent-stabilized apartment?”

Multimedia: Listening for noise

Michael Nagle for The New York Times

SLEEP SCHEDULES Greg and Janeen Thompson, with their two sons, got complaints from their downstairs neighbor, who doesn’t have children. Both sides say they have tried to be sympathetic to the other’s plight.

Michael Nagle for The New York Times

ON EGGSHELLS Margaret Hundley Parker and her husband don’t let their daughter play with loud toys in their bedroom, because it is right above their neighbor’s bedroom.

John Marshall Mantel for The New York Times

Alan Fierstein, a Manhattan acoustic consultant, says his business is booming

Monday, June 30, 2008

Tax Credits For Green Rooftops In NYC
June 29, 2008
Tax Credits For Green Rooftops In NYC

green_roof.jpgBuilding owners in New York City who install green rooftops on at least 50 percent of available rooftop space can apply for a one-year property tax credit of up to $100,000, Storm Water Infrastructure Matters (SWIM) reports.

Under a new bill passed by the New York legislature, the credit would be equal to $4.50 per square-foot of roof area that is planted with vegetation, or approximately 25 percent of the typical costs associated with the materials, labor, installation and design of the green roof.

Building owners can apply for the credit starting Jan. 1, 2009, under the pilot program that will expire after March 15, 2013, unless it is extended.

According to SWIM, the environmental benefits of the legislation are measurable. Each 10,000 square foot green roof, for instance, can capture between 6,000 and 12,000 gallons of water in each storm event, the evaporation of which will produce the equivalent of between a thousand and two thousand tons of air conditioning — enough heat removal to noticeably cool 10 acres of the city, SWIM says.

Green roofs are taking root in other areas too. The green roof industry in Germany is now annually worth $77 million, CNN reports.

Green roofs at the Metro-North Railroad’s Harmon Yard Support Shop, the MTA Bus Far Rockaway Depot, and the B&T Queens Midtown Tunnel Service Building Annex; and a white roof at the LIRR Hillside facility were among interim recommendations released by the Commission on Sustainability formed last summer to create a plan for reducing the agency’s ecological footprint by Earth Day 2008.

Green roofs are also catching on with businesses and organizations, from banks to libraries.
State legislature approves tax breaks for rooftop gardens

Monday, June 30th 2008, 3:45 PM
James Chase, communications director of Sustainable South Bronx, installed a green roof at his home. Zalcman for News

James Chase, communications director of Sustainable South Bronx, installed a green roof at his home.

State lawmakers have approved a bill to give tax breaks to homeowners who install "green roofs" - gardens atop buildings.

The credit of $4.50 per square foot, approved last Monday, is about a quarter of the cost of a typical green roof.

"The biggest barrier to a green roof is upfront cost," said Rob Crauderueff, director of sustainable policy at the nonprofit group Sustainable South Bronx. "They typically cost $15 to $20 per square foot."

"It's long overdue," said Assemblyman Ruben Diaz Jr. (D-Bronx), who sponsored the bill. "This is a great step forward to ultimately combat our greatest problem - global warming."

Green rooftops lower energy costs, decrease runoff into sewerage systems and reduce respiratory problems, Crauderueff said.

The immediate benefit for homeowners and tenants is more greenbacks in their wallets.

"A typical building would save between 10% and 20% on air conditioning costs," he said. "It's nature's version of AC."

Assemblyman Jose Peralta (D-Jackson Heights) also applauded the tax breaks.

"This will get the ball rolling," he said. "Before the legislation, there were questions - 'Is this legal? How do we go about it?' Now that the legislation is passed, the questions have been answered."

Supporters said the legislation will also help spin off local "green" jobs.

"If you make an investment in the environment, you make an investment in the community," said James Chase, who created a green rooftop for his home in the South Bronx in October.

"The green roof looks pretty, but that's not its value. This is a great way to support life in New York City. It provides people a job with benefits and health insurance," said Chase, who is also director of communications at Sustainable South Bronx.

James Wells, a graduate of a training program sponsored by the nonprofit group, now installs and maintains rooftop gardens for SmartRoofs, a company that specializes in them.

"I had just come out of 10 years of prison and faced a lot of discrimination in employment. This was my last hope," Wells said. "It can help take people out of poverty."

The new tax incentive - akin to a popular solar panel rebate program in New Jersey - could be the tipping point for many homeowners, Chase said.

"It's not high-tech, it's green-tech," Chase said of the difference between solar panels and green roofs. "This abatement will be the push people need to say, 'Alright, I'm going to do it.'"

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Co-op shares popular for home hunters

The New York Sun
By 'Sharing,' Co-Ops Compete With Condos
A Niche Market Grows as New Yorkers Seek Cheaper Apartments

By CANDACE TAYLOR, Staff Reporter of the Sun
June 26, 2008

Cedric Bernard and his wife, Sandrine, were two months from the end of the lease on their two-bedroom apartment at 63rd Street and West End, and with a toddler in the house and another child on the way, they needed more space badly.

The condos they'd seen in Manhattan were too expensive, and they dreaded the idea of commuting from a house in Westchester. Then the Bernards came across a three-bedroom apartment at 55 W. 95th St. At $876,000, the unit was cheaper than most of the condos they had been looking at, and, because it was a sponsor unit, it lacked the restrictions of most co-ops: Board approval was not required and the Bernards were able to finance up to 90% of the purchase.

"It was kind of like getting a condo, but at a decent price," Mr. Bernard said.

A co-op unit is different from a condo in that it is owned by the entire building, with individual homeowners owning a set number of "shares" in the corporation. Co-op shares that have not yet been sold are known as sponsor units, or apartments the landlord has retained as a rentals.

As the price of co-ops slides lower in comparison to condos, sponsor units are becoming more sought after than ever by apartment hunters and investors, brokers said. Previously an under-the-radar niche market, the selling of co-op shares is gaining more visibility, with new companies such as Shares of New York, from which the Bernards bought their apartment, coming into the marketplace, and bargain hunters seeking deals in a time of economic slowdown.

"It's a way for co-ops to compete with condos," a senior managing partner at Warburg Realty, Judith Thorn, said. "They're priced much lower than condos, but you can buy them with the same ease — sometimes with more ease."

Most of New York's unsold shares appeared during the 1970s and 1980s, when landlords converted many rental buildings into co-ops. Rather than selling all of the apartments in the building, landlords held on to some shares to make sponsor units, continuing to rent them out and generate income. These rental units in co-ops are more common than many New Yorkers realize, according to Ms. Thorn. "Most co-op buildings in New York have a few unsold shares," she said.

Purchasing unsold shares has long been considered a risky investment because the units usually contain rent-controlled or rent-stabilized tenants, which makes it difficult for buyers to know when they'll be able to vacate the unit, sell it, and cash in on their investment.

Despite this difficulty, more buyers are cropping up, a principal of MJH Birchwood, Myles Horn, said. He recently purchased a 500-unit package of unsold shares in Queens, Manhattan, and Long Island, and said the number of bidders for the package was "astonishing."

"People used to say these deals had hair on them," he said. "Well, they've gone bald now. Everybody wants a piece."

The reason, he said, is that in today's high-priced New York market, "it's harder to find good real estate deals." That's especially true with credit having dried up even before prices have dropped. Meanwhile, more packages have popped up on the market in response to high sales prices. "People are sensing that the market is on a downward trend, so if they're going to get out before the next cycle, now's the time," he said.

These sponsor units tend to cost more than standard co-op units because of the freedom that comes with them, although they are less than condos. MJH Birchwood's the Towers at Water's Edge in Bayside, Queens has sold 50% of its available inventory of unsold shares in seven months.

"If you have a product that looks like a condo and acts like a condo, it tends to sell like a condo," Ms. Thorn said.

Shares of New York was able to gain a foothold in the market when it purchased a rare find — a large block of unsold shares, most of which were unoccupied, in three Upper West Side buildings. The company bought the package from sponsors who had owned the building since the 1950s and wanted to get out of the business, the director of sales for the company, Amy Goldberg, said. The company is now renovating the buildings' worn-down lobbies and hallways and many of the apartments, and selling the units individually to a new crop of buyers. Prices range between $650,000 for an as-is two-bedroom apartment and $2.29 million for a newly renovated three-bedroom.

"We're just breathing life into these old buildings," Ms. Goldberg said, adding that this opportunity is similar to buying a condo conversion years ago. "It's a new opportunity to come in and watch this grow."

Mr. Bernard said he is a fan of the condo-like features of the building, including a new lobby, elevators, and a gym in the basement. "Knowing there will be a lot of new people in the building was kind of exciting," he said. "We liked knowing that eight months from now everything will be brand new."

Background Checks on Co-op Applicants May Dig Deep

The New York Times
June 26, 2008
The Fix
Applicant Checks May Dig Deep

BUYING a condo or co-op, or even renting an apartment, can be arduous, and most applicants understand that part of the process may involve being investigated by a board or a management company.

What some do not realize, however, is how extensive the inquiry might be.

Bruce A. Cholst, a Manhattan real estate lawyer, said his clients were using more tools, including the Internet, to predict whether someone would make a good neighbor.

For example, he said, he recently told one co-op board member that it was “perfectly legal” to search the Internet for information a prospective co-op buyer might have posted about herself. The board member went to, a social networking site geared to college students, and found, Mr. Cholst said, that “the applicant characterized her favorite activity as ‘partying.’ ”

“So his concerns about the person as a potential neighbor were legitimate,” Mr. Cholst said.

Boards or property owners might also search MySpace or LinkedIn, or search a person’s name using Google or Yahoo, but they might find nothing. In any case, information found on the Internet is not always reliable. But Mr. Cholst said that information people have posted about themselves under their name was “fair game” in a background check.

Most background research, with the exception of a check of an applicant’s credit history, does not require the permission of the person being investigated.

Arthur Davis, a Manhattan management consultant, said some boards and sellers had hired private investigators to check out prospective purchasers. A board might want to verify information on a buyer’s application. A seller in turn might not want to waste time with a buyer who could not win board approval.

As long as a co-op board does not discriminate for reasons prohibited by federal, state or local law — including race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, disability, and, in New York City, even occupation, among others — it generally has broad power to reject a sale, Mr. Davis said.

Condo boards have less power to block a purchase, Mr. Davis said, but they too are looking for information about potential owners.

Buyers are not the only applicants who might be investigated. Prospective rental tenants might find themselves under scrutiny.

Robert Grant, director of Midboro Management in Manhattan, which manages buildings for landlords and co-op and condo boards, said his company would ask former landlords if an applicant paid rent on time, got along with neighbors, was noisy or had an excessive number of guests. “We also try to get verification and longevity of employment,” Mr. Grant said, “and, if the employer is willing to provide it, the applicant’s future with the company.”

Another factor of interest to owners and boards is the tenant or buyer’s litigiousness. Many clients request a search of Housing Court and state Supreme Court records to determine whether an applicant has failed to pay rent or maintenance or is litigious, said Adam Leitman Bailey, a Manhattan real estate lawyer. “A few of our clients have us do criminal court searches,” he said.

Mr. Cholst said he would also recommend searching a prospective tenant’s name in the sex offender database maintained by each state under the requirements of Megan’s Law.

Boards and landlords also want to know about an applicant’s financial status. James Goldstick, vice president of Mark Greenberg Real Estate in Lake Success, N.Y., said his company did financial checks, looking for a prospective tenant’s credit history, bankruptcy filings, liens, judgments and collection accounts. That report, which costs about $60, is usually paid for by the management company or property owner, he said.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

State bill could end tax benefits for condos, coops
State bill could end tax benefits for condos, coops
BY ELIZABETH MOORE,0,3937701.story
June 18, 2008


Two town houses in gated Smithtown communities offer similar features and amenities such as a pool and clubhouse -- but one costs less than half as much in property tax as the other. The reason? It's a condo.

In Mount Sinai, an enclave of single-family homes offers good schools, ready access to a golf course -- and, because they're condos, less than half the tax bill paid by a comparably priced house outside their gate.

In Southold, officials have reluctantly decided only people 55 and older may live in a planned Cutchogue subdivision, because its 130 homes will pay less than half as much in school taxes as their neighbors do. That is because they're condos.

The "condo deal" is under fire
After years of pleas from frustrated local officials about New York State's rules for taxing condominiums, state lawmakers in the waning days of the current session hope to give them the power to at least put the brakes on building any more homes with tax breaks like these. That legislation is ready for final passage, but it has powerful opponents -- developers and condo owners -- and its fate is unclear.

"We need relief for this -- it's not fair to the other property owners," said Southampton tax assessor Edward Deyermond.

Smithtown's assessor Gregory Hild agreed: "I've been shouting on this thing for years."

New York State passed its law for co-ops and condos in 1964, as people began converting urban high-rise rental apartments to private ownership. The law was meant to protect them from being taxed more heavily than their former landlord, by assessing them by the entire building's potential rental value instead of each unit's market value.

New York City and Nassau County do not experience the current disparities because they later adopted a tax code that taxes commercial property more than homes and classifies high-rise condos as commercial, explained Thomas Frey, executive secretary of the state Assessors' Association. Later changes to that system taxed condos of three stories or fewer like other homes.

But the rest of the state, including Suffolk County, did not adopt that system, Frey said. And only gradually did developers elsewhere realize the condo law could be used to cut tax bills by up to two-thirds on all kinds of new developments and even existing subdivisions, from Montauk to the Adirondacks to Buffalo. Those tax savings have allowed them to market the homes for much higher prices than they could otherwise get.

"Condos are a relatively new phenomenon outside of New York City until the past 15 years," Frey said. "You never heard of a problem in western New York with condos until five years ago, but it's a major problem out there now."

Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy didn't return a call, but political observers and legislators say elected officials have been reluctant to incur the wrath of the growing number of condo owners.

Affordable or luxury?
In Suffolk County, at least 42,756 homes in 404 developments are condos or co-ops, according to the county planning department. Those include nine affordable developments and 54 for senior citizens. Many others are made up of luxury homes overlooking the waterfront or members-only golf courses. At least 18 Suffolk condo complexes are made up of detached, suburban-style houses.

Town officials are powerless to block condo construction or conversion because they are a form of ownership, not land use.

"People who don't have condos don't realize they are paying for them," said the leader of efforts to revise the law, State Sen. Betty Little (R-Glens Falls). "I think when people start to understand [the condo law], they see there are more people being hurt by it than helped."

Little and her Assembly counterpart, Sandy Galef (D-Westchester), are proposing to leave tax breaks intact on existing condominiums and co-ops, but allow local communities to impose their standard assessment rules on those converted or built after Jan. 1, 2010.

The state Association of Towns, Conference of Mayors and Association of Counties have been urging lawmakers to close the condo loophole for years. In a hearing earlier this month, Lee Kyriacou, director of the state's Office of Real Property Services, called it "far too broad a tax break to serve any valid purpose -- developers are driving a truck through it."

But year after year, bills have been defeated under fierce resistance by the developers' lobby and by condo owners whose homes would be worth dramatically less on the market if they lost the tax break.

"This [proposal] is a pretty watered-down version of our bill," said Little. "I think we decided we wouldn't get very far taking them [the tax breaks] away from people."

They may not get very far either way, Galef found when she co-hosted a Long Island hearing on this year's bill with Assemb. Ginny Fields (D-Oakdale). The people they found packing the room were angry condo owners; the fact that the bill wasn't aimed at them was irrelevant -- if this one isn't, they figured the next one would be. Their ire was enough to turn Fields into an opponent of Little and Galef's bill.

"At first I thought [ending the tax break] was a great idea," Fields said. "But what was very strongly brought up by the people is, it basically is affordable housing for senior citizens."

Lobbyists vs. homeowners
The state builders association, representing builders, remodelers and developers, also opposes Little's measure this year. "These co-op and condo developments should be encouraged because the increased density of such development is in accord with the principles of smart growth," executive vice president Philip LaRocque testified.

That is not the view in Southold, where residents have been up in arms over plans to build The Heritage at Cutchogue, 130 high-end homes on 45 acres just outside the historic downtown.

As condominium owners, Heritage residents will get a total reduction of about $1 million in taxes each year. Alarmed about the impact on schools, the town added a covenant restricting it to owners aged 55 and older. But town board member Tom Wickham is dismayed about the changes it will bring to the hamlet his ancestors settled in the 1600s.

"Is that what we want for our community -- is that the price we have to pay for all the condominium developments in our town?" he said. "This law is distorting the family composition of people living out here."


A condominium is a building or multiple-unit complex where residents own their individual living space and share joint ownership of common hallways, driveways and surrounding land.

A cooperative is jointly owned real estate whose shareholders are granted the right to occupy their individual unit.

How the condo law works
New York passed its condominium law in 1964 to protect buyers of urban high-rise apartments from being taxed more than the landlords. Developers have used that law to cut taxes by as much as two-thirds on properties from Montauk to Buffalo, building ever-bigger homes and even converting existing subdivisions. They can market the tax savings and charge more for the homes. Tax experts say the loophole is unfair to other homeowners, but fierce resistance from developers and condo owners has killed several efforts to close it. This time around, state lawmakers propose at least giving local communities the option to block new condo developments after 2010. Nassau's tax code compensates for the condo law, but Suffolk's does not. Below are examples of how much less condo owners are paying



Address: Van Nostrand Place

Year Built: 1948

Sale Price: $455,000 (Jan. 2008)

Taxes this year: $7,629.52


Address: Harbor Road North

Year Built: 1974

Sale Price: $460,000 (June 2007)

Taxes this year: $2,843.54

East Hampton


Address: Hayseed Way

Year Built: 1983

Sale Price: $1,075,000 (Jan. 2007)

Taxes this year: $6,898.00


Address: Huckleberry Lane

Year Built: 1985

Sale price: $1,150,000 (April 2008)

Taxes this year: $1,851.00


Fig Dr.

Built 2003

Sale price: $1.4M ('07)

Taxes: $21,568.59


Altessa Blvd.

Built 2004

$1.4M ('07)

Taxes: $7,284.75

Mt. Sinai


Remsen Court

Built 1987

Sale price: $850,000 ('08)

Taxes: $17,276.49


Hamlet Drive

Built 2004

$825,000 ('07)

Taxes: $8,421.26

Copyright © 2008, Newsday Inc.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Should all co-op applications be the same?

Seems like the only ones this would benefit would be the brokers helping their buyer-clients put together their co-op purchase applications.

The Real Deal
Author: Lauren Elkies
Should all co-op applications be the same?
June, 02, 2008

It's a process that can be a veritable nightmare: getting a mortgage loan approved, supplying personal information, preparing financial documents, acquiring reference letters, undergoing credit checks and finally, making numerous collated copies of the package for review by the property manager and co-op board — and all that's before the fateful interview.

Besides being extensive and intricate, co-op board applications are not uniform, and with roughly 2,500 co-op buildings in Manhattan alone, that can amount to a lot of different variations. Now even condos have become fussier, with applications similar to those required at co-ops.

Some real estate pros think the co-op application process could be simplified with a standardized application. The topic was addressed at a recent meeting of the Real Estate Board of New York sales council, a group of brokers who liaise between REBNY and its member brokers. Alan Pfeifer, a senior vice president at Halstead Property and co-chair of REBNY's sales council, said the group decided at its May meeting to form a subcommittee that will work on the uniform application in September, when the council reconvenes.

Proponents of a standard form say that it could make matters simpler for managing agents, who oversee the building's day-to-day maintenance and finances, and for buyers and their brokers, who would know from the get-go what the board was looking for. Opponents say that managing agents are lame ducks, so their preferences are irrelevant, and since all co-op boards basically ask for the same information, brokers should know how to prepare their buyers. In addition, a uniform application does not work for boards seeking additional information.

Anthony Miller, a vice president at Bellmarc Realty who initially raised the standardization issue at a previous sales council meeting, said, "I got sick and tired of board packages that maybe don't serve the interests of the boards nor the managing agents and can drive both buyers, sellers and brokers absolutely crazy."

Miller said that he recently helped a couple prepare the financials for an application to a co-op. The board wanted the assets to be divided between the husband and wife.

"This doesn't really help matters because in no case did it show what the combined assets were," he said. "That's an example of a bad format. It makes the asset total look weaker than it actually is."

Miller said that a standard form could be used on a voluntary basis, and buildings would be able to customize it with a "rider or an addendum to the application."

Not everyone thinks uniformity is a good thing.

Arthur Weinstein, vice president of the Council of New York Cooperatives & Condominiums, a not-for-profit organization for housing cooperatives and condominiums in the New York area, and a real estate attorney, thinks standardizing the forms is a "terrible idea." He added, "It's a stupid idea because each building has its own concerns."

One building with porous interior walls that he represents asks on the application about smoking habits because many of the building's residents are asthmatics who cannot have smokers dwelling in the building.

"Other buildings wouldn't care less about smoking," Weinstein said.

So long as it's legal, "the whole point of the matter is to live in a co-op, you should be able to pick who your neighbors are going to be," Weinstein said.

Still, a voluntary standard form could be a decent idea, he acknowledged, and a good jumping-off point.

But as private corporations with total autonomy, many co-op boards would be opposed to the new approach, he said.

Frederick Peters, president of Warburg Realty Partnership, said that while managing agents might be amenable to using a standard board package, the boards would not be because "they're not going to want some outside body telling them what to do. They want the autonomy."

Some buildings are more interested in social issues than others, with questions about a would-be buyer's friends and organization memberships. Other buildings emphasize more rigorous background checks. Still others want to know about pet ownership and subletting.

Kathy Braddock, co-founder of real estate consulting firm Braddock + Purcell and the New York City real estate company Charles Rutenberg Realty, said that there is no way a co-op board is going to agree to use a standard form.

Besides, the application isn't the issue since they all pretty much ask for the same information. Preparing a successful package is more about what's not in the application.

"It's not what you need; it's how it's presented, how it's tweaked," she said.

An application may ask who will be residing in an apartment, for example, but only someone familiar with a specific board would know that the board only approves couples with a maximum of two children. Or, a board may specify the number of references on the application, but only someone knowledgeable about the building would know its board only accepts written references.

Managing agents often run a number of buildings, and a uniform application would make their lives easier.

Donna Weinberg, a management executive at Lawrence Properties, a residential management and brokerage firm, said she thinks a standard form would be "great." The applications at the company's 60 residential buildings, 95 percent of which are co-ops, all have the same financial and reference requirements, but some of the building's house rules may be different, Weinberg said.

Anita Sapirman, founder and president of Saparn Realty, a residential management firm, said that she uses a standard application but alters it to suit each building.

"Usually, you can have one that is fairly standardized and then try to accommodate that particular board, adding some little item that they may want," Sapirman said.

She uses a uniform rental application.

"For me, it's a great idea. I love that it would be one standardized form. It just makes it simpler for my staff to go to the board and say, 'Here's the application; let's use this,'" Sapirman said.

Neil Binder, principal of Bellmarc Realty, which has a property management arm in addition to its main business, residential brokerage, said he would not support standardizing co-op applications.

"Different buildings have different criteria that they feel are pertinent to their evaluation search. There is already a number of 'standard forms' including those proposed by Bellmarc," Binder said. "Invariably, boards have objections to these forms and wish to have additional elements added."

Anthony Miller of Bellmarc said he's "sick and tired" of the co-op application process.