Case Notes in

2022

First published: Jul 2022
295 Greenwich Court Condominium, LLC. V. Consolidated Edison Company of New York, Inc.

This case illustrates why property damage claims usually go to trial if they’re not settled. The cause and scope of damage is a factual question. The plaintiff makes fact-based arguments to show how the other party caused the damage, and the defendant makes fact-based claims why they were not responsible for the damage. Unless the court deems that one party had no legal duty (or had an unbreakable legal duty) to the other, or the evidence on one side is overwhelming, the court will usually elect to have a jury (or the court) weigh the credibility of the competing claimants at a trial, rather than making a judgment based on depositions and documents alone. These cases can last for several years, draining the resources of a condominium or co-op and negatively affecting owners’ ability to sell or obtain mortgages in the interim. Even though many of these claims have a basis in fact, boards need to weigh the unintended consequences on the community before making them.

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First published: Jul 2022
Bd. Of Mgrs. Of 207-209 E. 120th St. Condo. V. Dougan

This case is a stark reminder to condominiums that many of their bylaws do not provide the right for the condominium to recover attorney’s fees when a unit owner defaults on a non-monetary obligation. Boards should look to amend these provisions to allow for legal fee recovery since there are many common situations where a condominium board is forced to bring action to enjoin a non-monetary default (unauthorized alterations, illegal use, unreasonable noise, and short-term rentals are just a few).

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First published: Jun 2022
Yoonoak Kang V. Douglas Elliman Property Management

Managing agents are often treated like pin cushions, and over the last several years their jobs have been made even harder with increasing city regulations on everything from caps on gas stoves to sorting out who is and isn’t eligible to receive tax abatements. Here, the managing agent did nothing wrong, but had to incur the time and aggravation to deal with a disgruntled owner whose records were unclear regarding the location of her primary residence.

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First published: Jun 2022
Trump Village Section 4, Inc. v Vilensky

Although the issues of whether a co-op can sue when a prospective buyer makes misrepresentations on a purchase application have not been finally resolved — and courts will continue to hear motions in such cases — it is interesting that the trial court and then an appellate court allowed a cooperative to bring a fraud action in this case. It is not uncommon for an applicant to claim he will move in and instead install an adult child in the apartment or use it as an investment by subleasing the apartment. In the past, boards have had little recourse. Certainly the cooperative might bring an action that the shareholder has violated the lease, but after curing, the violations could continue. Still, the possibility of winning damages in a fraud claim makes it imperative to follow such disputes to their legal conclusion.

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First published: Jun 2022
Roberts v. WVH Housing Corporation

These disputes happen all too often at cooperative and condominium elections. It would seem that the reason for this is the rush to close the meeting and announce the results the same evening. It is not uncommon for a board to insist that the vote be finalized the night of the meeting, no matter how late it gets. This is asking for trouble, since people often make mistakes. In many cases, if there was a simple comparison of the number of shareholders who signed in (either by proxy or in person) and the number of ballots, discrepancies might be discovered. In the lumberyard, it is common to hear “measure twice, cut once.” Perhaps an adage should be created just for elections at cooperatives and condominiums: Check twice, announce once.

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First published: May 2022
Baker V. 16 Sutton Place Apts. Corp.

If you are dissatisfied with the action of the cooperative or the board, and you believe that the court should review it under Article 78, bring an action immediately, as the statute of limitation is quite short.

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First published: Apr 2022
Heywood Condominium v. Steven Wozencraft

Governance of a condominium can be difficult, as the board does not have the same remedies as in a cooperative. This being the case, every condo board should review the house rules and bylaws to ensure that it has all of the possible remedies that might be available. Careful review of the provisions in regard to the non-payment of common charges is very important, and it should be clear in the governing documents that if a unit-owner is in arrears, nonessential services, including the use of amenities (such as a gym or pool or rooftop garden), will not be available to that unit-owner. It is best to review all remedies in the governing documents, including those involving other day-to-day violations of the house rules and bylaws, such as smoking, noise and odor complaints.

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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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