By Anessa Cohen

The New York Times real-estate section regularly discusses the problems with co-op boards in various parts of the city.

The most recent one that made me laugh was a letter to the legal advice columnist asking how a shareholder can exercise her rights in a pet-free building when so many other shareholders in the complex are bringing in animals as medical-support pets, which, by law, can bypass any “no pets allowed” policy in a co-op.

This shareholder has allergies and bought into a pet-free building to protect herself against allergy attacks, only to find a number of shareholders using this loophole of a support animal to bypass the “no pets allowed” laws in the complex.

Surprisingly, the legal adviser told her that those shareholders with support animals might have stronger laws in their favor than her allergies, and even with the “pet free” laws of the cooperative, she might just have to take more medication for her allergies since her protections were weaker than theirs. This is what it has come to now — not only in cooperative buildings, but also on airplanes if you find yourself seated next to someone with a support pet!

Co-op boards are the Achilles heel of cooperative-apartment building owners, especially when the shareholders relinquish control of the day-to-day functions of maintaining the overall health of the greater cooperative project to people who never should have been in control of even something as minor as choosing what flavor doughnuts should be served at the general shareholders’ meetings.

While this is not a problem in the majority of cooperative complexes, it does happen enough that it is incumbent on every shareholder in a cooperative situation to be vigilant and active about what is happening with the elected board, and to make sure that communications between the board and the shareholders are open and informative.

Most complexes are fortunate to have good and successful co-op boards working hard and doing their best to make everything go smoothly, but to be successful they also need the input and cooperation of the shareholders to create a comfortable and well-maintained environment.

This article brought to mind the way co-op boards worked in Jerusalem back in the early 1970s when I was there (and probably many years before that). I started laughing, remembering what people living in co-ops in Jerusalem used to deal with, even when buildings had the most amazing boards struggling to maintain a building and doing everything possible to make the building and its amenities function to the highest level.

I laughed, because back then an extra amenity in the building could mean having a cleaning person come each Friday to sweep and wash the floors in the building — something that many did on their own in the little areas in front of their doors.

In buildings that did not have the once-a-week cleaning person, it was not unusual to have apartment owners or tenants fight with each other because one was a slob and the other was clean; as next-door neighbors, the clean owner would be at the mercy of the sloppy neighbor who might have left a pile of shoes outside his front door together with various bags of garbage that he figured he would bring down when he eventually got around to it. In situations like this, the co-op board (known as the vaad in Israel) would have to be judge and jury and try to referee the situation between the two feuding neighbors.

Most coveted was a building vaad that could unequivocally state they supplied hot water daily to each apartment. Many of the old buildings had a single unit to heat water for all the apartments in the building. As many of you know, in Israel, a 24-hour water heater is not necessarily typical for homeowners. Such luxuries are usually seen only in a public building or hotel. As a result, a building with one heating unit would specifically state hours that the hot water would be available daily to their tenants. The number of hours a day that a building might have hot water was based on how much money the coop board calculated could be collected from each tenant towards payment of heating the main source of hot water, and hours were determined as such.

Unfortunately, how much hot water you got would also depend on how openhanded the other tenants agreed to be towards the collection pool for payment of heating the hot-water unit in the building. If you were lucky to be in a building where everyone wanted hot water and made sure to pay their portion towards making sure there was plenty of hot water each day for bathing and other needs, everything was fine.

Yet, somehow, there were always a few in the building who did not want to pay to heat the hot water and claimed they would rather make do with cold water, or those who just figured that they could use the hot water and then let the co-op board chase them for their share of the money.

Obviously, with this going on there was a lot of fighting between the stingy tenants and the co-op board. And in the case of those going for long periods without paying their shares, the buildings they lived in ended up with hot water every few days or even just once a week because the money to heat the hot water would run out.

By the mid-1970s, new construction in Israel started to include amenities of separate solar hot-water heaters for each apartment. Since many tenants were being hauled into court for non-payment of their share of heating the hot water and for general heating as well, I guess the developers got smart.

But in the case of heat, those apartments with radiators are still at the mercy of tenants paying their share. Otherwise, they install dual central air-conditioning and hot-air systems. 

Anessa Cohen lives in Cedarhurst and is a licensed real-estate broker (Anessa V Cohen Realty) and a licensed N.Y.S. loan officer (FM Home Loans) with over 20 years of experience offering full-service residential, commercial, and management real-estate services as well as mortgage services. She can be reached at 516-569-5007 or via her website, www.AVCrealty.com. Readers are encouraged to send questions or comments to anessa@AVCrealty.com

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