Case Notes

Case Notes provides insight on one particularly relevant co-op or condo case—clearly explaining what happened, why it’s important, and what lessons can be learned within.

285 results
First published: Mar 2022
Bad Behavior

Sometimes the animosity that grows between neighbors takes on a life of its own, and if not nipped in the bud drives them to self-destructive behavior. Where the parties could not act rationally to realize their interests, the judge had to step in and be the grownup, if for no other reason, to prevent abuse of the court’s resources.

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First published: Feb 2022
Getting Off the Board

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW As is always the case, it is vital to follow the bylaws, which the Esplanade Board did in exercising its right to remove directors for cause.

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First published: Feb 2022
Getting on the Board

This is a good example of the need to comply with a building’s governing documents when determining whether an election was properly held.

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First published: Feb 2022
Water Leak

Unlike a co-op shareholder, a condo owner is not a lessee under a proprietary lease, and is not protected by the statutory warranty of habitability. Under this protection, a co-op shareholder can withhold rent if his or her apartment becomes unlivable due to damage, but a condo owner does not have that right. The condo owner can't withhold common charges, even if there is a damage claim for alleged water leaks. But note that the Judge, by holding the money judgment in abeyance, essentially gave the unit-owner a reprieve on paying common charges while the lawsuit was pending, undercutting the principle that was supposedly being exalted. It is a curious decision, one that properly states and applies the law but then, in a twist of fate worthy of M. Night Shyamalan, undoes it all in the penultimate sentence.

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First published: Feb 2022
Washing Machine

Boards should consult their governing documents and ensure sufficient notice is given, and even add a day or two as a cushion. Courts will not dismiss a case if too much notice is given instead of not enough. Boards should also make every effort to resolve disputes with their shareholders so that harmonious and mutually beneficial relationships cay be maintained.

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First published: Feb 2022
Nelson V. Board Of Managers Of The 32 East 1st Street Condominium

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW Unlike a co-op shareholder, a condo owner is not a lessee under a proprietary lease, and is not protected by the statutory warranty of habitability. Under this protection, a co-op shareholder can withhold rent if his or her apartment becomes unlivable due to damage, but a condo owner does not have that right. The condo owner can't withhold common charges, even if there is a damage claim for alleged water leaks. But note that the Judge, by holding the money judgment in abeyance, essentially gave the unit-owner a reprieve on paying common charges while the lawsuit was pending, undercutting the principle that was supposedly being exalted. It is a curious decision, one that properly states and applies the law but then, in a twist of fate worthy of M. Night Shyamalan, undoes it all in the penultimate sentence.

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First published: Jan 2022
Elango Medical PLLC v. Trump Palace Condominium and Trump Corp.

Though the decision of the appeals court did not address whether there was discrimination by Trump — the case is still pending — the decision here points out three very important points every co-op and condo board should be aware of. First, courts will often look at past acts of a board, and inconsistency is frowned upon. The board’s decision to allow other units to be used as medical offices could only lead a court to conclude that there must be another reason for a rejection of the current applicant. A mantra of all boards should be: “Be reasonable, and be consistent.” This golden rule will alleviate much pain — and avoid many lawsuits. The second point is a simple piece of advice for avoiding charges of discrimination: Do not ask questions (or require things of an applicant) if it would elicit information that would lead you to know that they belong to a protected class. For example, do not ask an applicant’s age, since that may result in a claim that there was a rejection because the applicant was too old or too young. Do not ask if they will need any accommodations, because this is akin to asking: “Do you have a disability?” Do not ask the applicant’s religion or where they were born. None of these questions are relevant to whether they will be a good neighbor and pay their maintenance on time, and none of these questions can be asked on an application or at an interview. Likewise, requiring a photograph is wrong because it can elicit information that is inappropriate (and illegal) when making the admittance decision. The final important point involves the Trump Corp.’s role. In asking the court to dismiss the claim, Trump took the position that it was only the agent of the condo board, and the board made the decision. The court seemed to be warning managers that if there is discrimination, they may be held culpable if they took an active role. We do not know how the court will rule in this matter. However, given the two most important factors (the photo of the applicant and the prior use of the unit), it would be safe to say that the position of the condo board and Trump seems weak. The decisions of the court so far have taught a valuable lesson to boards that are wise enough to learn from the mistakes of others.

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First published: Oct 2021
Siwana Green v. Al Cristancho

Often we hear that a court’s decision is based on a technicality and that form is as important as substance. In this decision, the court has made it clear that the will of the people will prevail, even if there may have been a technical mistake or two. Substance, in this case, was more important than form.

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First published: Jul 2021
Weinstein v. Board of Directors of 12282 Owners' Corp.

As stated decades ago, without a showing of a breach of fiduciary duty, judicial inquiry into the action of directors is prohibited – even if the board’s decision was unwise or inexpedient. Broad statements accusing a board wrongdoing will not suffice; the plaintiff must state with particularity that the actions of the board were taken in bad faith, showed self-dealing, discrimination or misconduct, or otherwise fell outside the scope of the business judgment rule. Weinstein failed to show any of the above, and thus the court dismissed his case. Management contended that its actions were also shielded by the business judgment rule. The court disagreed. However, bringing an action against management was a decision for the board to make, and the board’s decision not to bring such an action was also protected by the business judgment rule. Therefore, the derivative claims against management were also dismissed. This case is a useful reminder that the decisions of co-op and condo boards will be respected by the courts – provided there is no bad faith or self-dealing and provided the decisions are made within the scope of the board’s authority. The business judgment rule is alive and well. But the lesson to be learned is that no matter how often the courts uphold this rule, shareholders will continue to attack their boards’ decisions. Therefore, every board should be forewarned to always make educated and well-documented decisions and to always act within the scope of its authority.

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First published: Jun 2021
Dubin v. Glasser

The standard New York cooperative proprietary lease does not expressly state that a tenant-shareholder is a third-party beneficiary of another tenant-shareholder’s lease with the cooperative corporation. Therefore, if a board fails to take action against a shareholder for violation of the proprietary lease or house rules, another shareholder cannot independently bring his or her own action against a shareholder. In addition, the standard lease has a provision that states the co-op is not responsible to the lessee for the non-observance of the lease or house rules. Thus, to remedy a bad situation, the shareholder in a cooperative is dependent on the board to enforce the lease provisions and house rules. If the board refuses, based on the Ran v. Weiner decision, there is nothing for the injured shareholder to do. (Interestingly, the Condominium Act would allow an aggrieved condo unit-owner to bring an action if the condo board does not, but there is no such parallel provision in any laws applicable to cooperatives.) But perhaps the door has opened slightly by the decision in Dubin v. Glasser. Perhaps common practice in cooperatives will change. Stay tuned, as we may not have heard the last of this from the courts. A shareholder may indeed have the right to enforce the lease or house rules when the board refuses.

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