First published: Sep 2023
The Dangers of Hoarding
TAKEAWAY Beekman East was quite successful in court, not only because the facts were so extreme, but because the language in the governing documents was so good. It’s advisable for every board to review with their attorney the by-laws and house rules (and proprietary lease, in a co-op) to be sure that the language regarding accessing apartments is very strong and broad. This vigilance will lead to a successful outcome if the owner decides not to give access when the board requires it for an inspection, to make repairs, or to exterminate.
BOARD OF MANAGERS OF THE BEEKMAN EAST CONDOMINIUM V. SCHULMAN
What Happened Helene Schulman has been a unit-owner for the past twenty years in the Beekman East, a 141-unit condominium in midtown Manhattan. Over this time she had hoarded a large amount of personal property, resulting in overcrowded and unsanitary conditions in the apartment. In early 2023, a fire broke out in her apartment, seriously damaging her unit. After the fire Schulman left a large amount of the damaged belongings in her apartment, causing numerous complaints from residents about noxious odors. Building staff inspected the apartment and, in addition to the large amounts of debris, they saw mice crawling over the piles. The condo attempted to have Schulman clean the apartment on numerous occasions, to no avail, and the condition prevented the rodent extermination from taking place. The condo claims that her failure to cure the conditions in the apartment interfered with its attempts to obtain property insurance for the entire building.
In Court Beekman East took action against Schulman for breach of contract and various equitable relief. It asked for a preliminary injunction directing Schulman to give the condo and its contractors access to the unit in order to cure the hoarding conditions, exterminate, and repair damages. Beekman East quoted relevant provisions in its by-laws and house rules giving it right of access and prohibiting any unit owner from interfering with the rights of other owners.
In deciding this case, the court outlined what was necessary in order to issue a preliminary injunction: The plaintiff must show a likelihood of success on its claims, danger of irreparable injury if not granted, and the balance of equities must be in the plaintiff’s favor. The court found that Beekman East met this threshold, and granted the preliminary injunction. It gave the condo access to cure the hoarding and to clean and inspect the apartment, noting that the governing documents were clear as to these rights. The court also agreed that the preliminary injunction was needed to prevent other unit owners from being adversely affected by the noxious odors, rodent infestation, and inability to obtain insurance.
COUNSEL For Beekman East Board DEVIN NESS Herrick, Feinstein / For Helene Schulman RONALD LANGUEDOC Himmelstein, McConnell, Gribben & Joseph / Judge Louis Nock