Lawsuits are an unfortunate, expensive fact of life these days—chances are that at some point in your lifetime you’ll be involved in one to at least some degree. In you live in a co-op or condo community, legal issues arise between boards and residents all the time. Sometimes it’s the resident who sues the building for some grievance, other times it’s the building that goes after an individual resident. Maybe Jane Doe in 3A has defaulted on her lease in her co-op, or John Doe has consistently caused all manner of trouble since moving into his condo unit, and has now failed to pay his condo charges.
Clearly action needs to be taken, but either way, a lawsuit within a building community makes for a delicate situation, roiling up bad feelings and costing everyone money and time.
So what is the first thing you should do when you get the word that a legal action has been brought against you or the board? Of course your first reaction—whether you’re the board president or the individual being sued—might be to panic. After all, a lawsuit conjures up the specter of lost wages, large payments and a tremendous amount of stress for everyone involved.
But don’t panic. Instead, according to Manhattan-based attorney Adam Leitman Bailey, the wiser course of action is to just take a deep breath, sit down, and read it. “There is a limited amount of time you have to respond to a lawsuit,” says Bailey. “If it’s personally served, you have 20 days, and if it’s served by the secretary of state, you have 30. You can get an adjournment [to get more time] but you have to ask before time expires.”
Once you are done reading over the paperwork and have an idea what it’s all about, it’s time to talk to your or your building’s attorney. “The next action that should be carried out should be to have the lawsuit reviewed by counsel,” says Eric Goidel, a partner at Borah Goldstein Altschuler Nahins & Goidel PC, in Manhattan. Although modern technology has instant communication, there’s no guarantee that your attorney will receive a forwarded email or PDF, so most legal professionals advise following up by phone in a few days to make sure it was received.