Comparing City-Based Co-Ops and Condos With Their Suburban Counterparts How They Are Similar and Different

There certainly are differences to consider when managing a suburban property versus a city dwelling (iStock).

There's a long-standing assumption that the big city is a center for both hustle and bustle, a fast-paced place designed for the benefit of fast-paced folks--while on the other hand the suburbs are a mecca for those more easy and breezy; a place to slow things down and raise a family, maybe even splurge on an above-ground pool. Whether there's truth to these perceptions probably varies based on with whom you inquire, but that there are legitimate distinctions is not really up for debate. So how do these distinctions apply to running or working with a condominium, co-op or homeowners' association? Is a suburban community more lax than those in a thriving metropolis? Are folks in smaller towns more preoccupied with the minutiae of it all? Or is it more or less the same operation with some slight variances?

Property Value

When specifically considering the New York experience, space is famously a premium in the city, and there's significantly more room to spread out in places like Long Island and Westchester. This can mean that communities in places like the latter two face considerations and issues that are often irrelevant in an urban property.

“From a management point-of-view, a high-rise in Manhattan can be easier to handle than a garden-type apartment community on Long Island, because with the latter you have to consider landscaping, snow removal, and things of that nature,” says John Wolf, president of Alexander Wolf & Company in Plainview. “If you're looking at a high-rise, much of what is vital is contained within the building: you have your boiler, the roof, elevators, heating systems and mechanics, which are more-or-less standard and in compliance with Local Law 11 [which requires buildings with six or more stories above grade to have their exterior walls and appurtenances inspected periodically]. But on Long Island, you have the aforementioned issues, in addition to those surrounding sewage treatment, pools, siding, etc. A community with more acres means you're going to have more vendors and contractors of which you must keep track.”

According to Wolf's colleague, vice president and director of management Charlie Incandela, various regulations environmental and otherwise, which have been passed over the last three decades, have contributed to the different management considerations in a suburban community versus a city property. “We manage something something like a few dozen communities that have their own independent sewage treatment plants, which involves its own budgeting, planning and reserving that isn't even a consideration in Manhattan,” he says. “And then there's access: is your community gated? Gated and manned? Are there card readers or phone boxes? You're dealing with different animals.”

Rule of Law

Due to a litany of issues, spatial and otherwise, Manhattan has local laws and municipal codes with which properties must comply that can prove burdensome when managing a city association versus a suburban alternative.

Lewis Montana, a partner with the law firm Levine & Montana in Peekskill who works with a co-op in the Bronx in addition to his clients in the suburbs, concedes the above. “It's much more technical to comply with New York City's own laws than it is to comply with those here in the suburbs,” he says. “Obviously, there is state law with which we all comply. But generally in regard to guiding clients, it's easier to give them recommendations as to what they should and shouldn't do up here in the suburbs than in NYC, because in the latter, there's a layer of government regulations atop the state law.”

Montana also notes that, in his experience, “the further away you get from NYC, the more open the courts are to arguments on behalf of a board, which is, for all intents and purposes, a landlord. I've found that NYC courts at least appear to be more focused on protecting tenants' rights. That's not to say that courts up here don't protect tenants' rights; they certainly do. They're just perhaps more open to entertaining arguments from a landlord point-of-view.”

As was briefly touched upon, adherence to Local Law 11 can complicate things in the city as opposed to the suburbs, where, as Ronald A. Sher, Esq., a partner with Himmelfarb & Sher in White Plains, observes, there is not the same type of ongoing reporting and corrective requirements.

Beyond that, however, in his experience, Sher feels that city and suburban associations are more alike than not. “The fiduciary duties and fiscal responsibilities of a board anywhere are exactly the same, whether you're talking about 5th Avenue or Main Street, U.S.A. The board's commitment toward the betterment of its property and residents is a constant.”

And Incandela notes that as far as regulations are concerned, the suburbs are catching up with the city. “The codes are getting tighter,” he says. “Recently, to cite one example, Brookhaven has required all clubhouses to have carbon monoxide detectors and that they be hard-wired,” he says. “And buildings with more than four units now need to have a sprinkler system. Everything is getting retrofitted and new construction is regulated more strictly.”

So while there certainly are differences to consider when managing a suburban property versus a city dwelling, any conception that the former is easier than the latter would seem off-base. A board's priorities remain the same in either environment, only various issues with which they must concern themselves day-to-day may change depending on the layout of their developments and certain municipal codes.  

Mike Odenthal is a staff writer for The Cooperator and other publications.

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