State legislation and city ordinances can provide a condo, co-op, or HOA board with guidance on how to effectively deal with a disruptive or unruly shareholder—someone whose abusive, harassing, inappropriate or chronically litigious behavior makes them a nightmare neighbor—but legislation is not always clear-cut, and not always applicable to all situations. To address these gaps and eject a truly problematic resident from one's community, boards often must turn to legal decisions made in the courts. Using legal precedent as a basis for getting a rotten apple out of the bunch can work; but it can also be long, costly and arduous.
The Notorious Mr. Pullman
In New York State, the most noteworthy case of a “disruptive” cooperative shareholder is arguably that of David Pullman, a successful and wealthy financier who resided at 40 West 67th Street in Manhattan just before the turn of the 21st century. Pullman moved into the nine-story, 38-unit building on Manhattan's Upper West Side in 1998 and soon began making demands that the board change or upgrades amenities and hire a 24-hour doorman, among other things. Pullman also submitted more than 15 letters of complaint about an upstairs neighbor who he claimed was chronically noisy.
According to the website CaseBrief.com, Pullman accused his upstairs neighbors (a retired professor and his wife) of noise violations that included playing the television too loudly late at night and “operating a noisy illegal bookbinding business that required storing toxic chemicals.” The board’s investigation determined that the neighbors not only weren't operating a bookbinding business, but they didn’t even own a television set. Undaunted by the facts, Pullman eventually got into a physical altercation with the professor and distributed flyers throughout the building referring to him as a “psychopath in our midst.”
By 2000, Pullman's fellow shareholders had had enough, and called a vote to terminate his proprietary lease and oust him from the building. The vote was taken, and Pullman was evicted, with the board citing Pullman for “objectionable” conduct under the lease agreement. Pullman in turn filed a lawsuit against the board, and refused to vacate his estimated $900,000 apartment.
The wheels of justice often move slowly. In 2003, a divided Appellate Division of the New York Supreme Court found in favor of Pullman's neighbors. The court referred to the 1990 decision Levandusky vs. One Fifth Avenue Apartment Corp. (75 N.Y.2d 530, 2000), which gave legal deference to board members' decisions when made in good faith in the best interest of a building community. The judgment concluded that Levandusky prohibited judicial scrutiny of actions of cooperative boards “taken in good faith and in the exercise of honest judgment in the lawful and legitimate furtherance or corporate purposes.”