Q&A: Seniors and Increased Maintenance
Q I live in a co-op in the Lower East of Manhattan. We have an entrenched board, which is under the control of our building manager. Over the past few years, our building has made some ‘improvements’ to the tiles, windows, lobby, etc. that have all been very costly. There are many seniors in the co-op, and we suspect that the board and our manager are planning large increases in maintenance fees. Being on fixed incomes, any large increases will probably end up in our eviction. Is there anything we can do to protect ourselves?
A “You, dear reader, are an owner of a valuable apartment in New York City. Therefore, the government is not so inclined to assist you, as it does for certain renters of rent-regulated apartments, aged 62 and older, by providing a senior citizens rent increase exemption (SCRIE),” says attorney Deborah Koplovitz, of the Manhattan-based law firm of Rosen & Livingston. “As there are no governmental regulations restricting the amounts of maintenance increases a private corporation can charge, my advice is not just to protect yourself, but to ‘empower yourself.’ The only way you can truly control the amount of maintenance you pay is to run for, and be elected to, the board.
“Retirees on fixed incomes have concerns about cost of living increases, to be sure, but you also have a distinct advantage over those of us still in the work force; you own more of the precious commodity of time. You have time to serve on the board of directors once elected, but, more importantly, you have the time to solicit votes to get elected to the board in the first place. Once elected, you can then determine the kinds of capital improvements your co-op makes, and the amount of maintenance paid by shareholders.
“Though the overwhelming portion of maintenance fees are fixed, there are a few creative ways boards can work to try to normalize maintenance costs. For example, governmental incentives, such as the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) program relating to energy, can significantly assist a coop in lowering its energy costs. This may, in turn help to cap maintenance increases, as many coops have recently faced double-digit maintenance increases due mostly to the higher cost of oil. The NYSERDA program provides not only low costs loans but valuable cash incentives in exchange for increasing energy efficiency and making your building more ‘green.’
“Finally, if you are really in a bind, and do not care to run for the board of directors, you could consider taking out a reverse mortgage with a lender to help you meet your monthly maintenance costs.”