Q&A: Selling A Mitchell-Lama Unit
Q My mother recently passed away and I inherited her shares in a Mitchell-Lama co-op building. It's taken quite some time to run down the paperwork, and make preparations to empty the unit, and the building management has not been at all helpful. Today when I discovered that some tools were misplaced—or maybe missing—from the apartment, I called the management company and asked about the tools. The managing agent blew up, sent an employee to return my keys, and basically said "good luck" selling my shares, because the management is not required to show the apartment.
I'm obviously already grieving the loss of my mother, and I'm harried with other issues with settling her estate. I'm pretty much clueless about what steps to take to sell a low-income housing unit. I don't know with certainty the value of the shares, how to sell it, how to list it, etc. Can you please advise?
A “Mitchell-Lama housing was created many years ago by the New York Legislature (and it’s name derives from the two sponsors of the law),” says attorney Andrew Brucker of Manhattan-based Schecter and Brucker, PC. “The law, found in the Private Housing Finance Law, creates for low and middle income New Yorkers what are known as “Limited Profit Housing Companies,” and that is the key to the question asked.
“People who purchased an apartment in such co-ops paid very low prices. The co-ops also paid much lower real estate taxes and much lower mortgage rates, which meant the maintenance paid by shareholders was lower than conventional co-ops.
“However, there was a trade-off. For such benefits, these co-ops agreed to allow a governmental agency to oversee its operations, and the shareholders also agreed that when they sell their apartments, they are limited in their profit (hence the name “limited profit housing company”). When a Mitchell-Lama shareholder leaves the co-op and “sells” his/her shares, they are only entitled to the amount they paid, plus any capital assessments, plus (depending on the policy of the particular cooperative) any mortgage amortization. The concept of “fair market value” and “appraisals” simply do not apply to such apartments.
“The New York City Mitchell-Lama rules are clear as to what happens when a shareholder passes away. The “lease and shares of stock for such decedent’s apartment shall be surrendered by the decedent’s estate or survivors for redemption.” The rules further state that “upon the death of a tenant/cooperator, the shares must be returned to the mutual housing company which will arrange for a sale pursuant to [these rules].” The rules also state that “the shareholder shall be responsible for carrying charges…for up to 90 days after surrendering possession of the apartment or until the housing company transfer the shares to the new owner, whichever occurs earlier.”
“It should also be noted that management maintains a waiting list for the apartments. In the event of death, the next of kin or executor of the estate is not entitled nor required to sell the apartment. Management and the co-op must sell the apartment using its waiting list to find a purchaser. The only obligation that the next of kin has is to inform management of the owner’s death, and to arrange to get the personal property out of the apartment. I would make sure that management has received in writing a notice of the passing, and the fact that possession is now being returned to the co-op. Remember, under the law, the estate is only liable for three months maintenance (at the most) after the apartment is made available for resale.
“As to the nasty behavior of the manager, and the complications he is creating, I would try to find the name of a board member, and pass along a note to him/her. Also, contacting the supervising agency, the Department of Housing Preservation and Development (“HPD”) in the case of a city Mitchell Lama (or the New York State Division of Housing Community Redevelopment, or “DHCR”) may be in order to preserve your rights.”