This is the legislative session that we need activity. It’s becoming a tale of two states when you consider co-op and condo legislation. The state Legislature has not passed a single co-op bill in over a decade despite the fact that there are over 370,000 co-op units, housing over one million residents, in New York City alone.
A.00034/S.03152 would create the Office of the Cooperative and Condominium Ombudsman within the New York State Attorney General’s Office. This office would have the power to provide mediation and other types of dispute resolution services, offer vote counting assistance to insure fair elections of board members and advise the Legislature and Governor on legislation affecting either co-op shareholders or condo owners.
The ombudsman would also create and provide educational materials for everyone involved with co-ops and condos to inform them of their rights and responsibilities under federal, state and local laws and regulations.
A.05838/S.4626 would empower the Attorney General to appoint a hearing officer to handle the appeal of disputes between shareholders and boards of directors of co-ops.
Finally, A.00372/S.01809 would create a separate division in Housing Court to hear cases involving co-ops and condos.
So many of the apartment units in, for example, southern Brooklyn are either co-ops or condos and disputes between unit owners and their respective boards or other unit owners are all too common.
Whether it is an individual unit owner or a group of owners who take issue with an action or decision of their board or another owner, challenging it is difficult and expensive.
The Attorney General currently only has jurisdiction over the sales offerings of co-ops and condos. Once a co-op or condo plan is declared effective, co-ops fall under the state’s Business and Corporation Law and condos are regulated under the Condominium Act.
The current body of law primarily requires co-ops and condos to address certain issues in drafting the legal documents that enable them to control their building(s). It does not address resolving situations when boards do not follow either their own bylaws or city, state and federal laws and regulations.
I have been made aware of too many unresolved disputes between either unit owners or groups of owners and their boards or other unit owners. If the board or unit owner stands firm, the only choices are either attempt to elect a new board or begin legal action, neither easy options.
There are over a dozen bills in the legislature this session that address issues with the current co-op and condo environment. I would like to see most of them passed into law.
However, I believe that these three bills, which provide a viable mechanism for resolving disputes, will provide the greatest relief to co-op and condo owners.
This is why I urge everyone, whether or not they own a co-op or condo, to contact their Assembly member and State Senator and let them know you want these bills passed. We have to get the legislature moving.
Our homes, including co-ops and condos, should provide a peaceful sanctuary from the hustle and bustle and stresses of the outside world. That’s why when conflict arises in a co-op or condo development it is vitally important to provide a direct mechanism for its expeditious resolution.
Ben Akselrod is president of We're One Community, a group dedicated to bringing Southern Brooklyn's diverse ethnic and religious communities together.