Nowadays everyone is looking for ways to save money—and co-ops, condos and HOAs are no exception. After all, it takes a great deal of financial support to run a community in accord with residents' standards, so every dollar counts. Funds are needed for repairs, staff salaries, vendor invoices, everyday maintenance and janitorial supplies, and to retain services from professionals such as accountants and attorneys.
From time to time, an association or co-op must consult with an attorney about things like lease negotiations, dispute settlements and contract reviews. It’s important to have a qualified attorney or law firm on your side but that doesn't mean a board-management team can't save money on those notoriously steep legal fees.
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How you can save on legal costs depends on the type of attorney or firm you're dealing with. “One type of lawyer is called a landlord-tenant attorney, and there are firms that specialize in that area,” says Stephen Beer, managing partner with Czarnowski & Beer LLP in Manhattan. “The certiorari attorney is hired to reduce the real estate taxes and fight the city’s valuation. They only get paid if they are successful, and generally take a percentage—15 to 25 percent—out of the cash they get for the building.”
Beer explains that as the name suggests, 'general counsel' attorneys handle general matters. “They charge by the month, and some items are included, such as board operations and unit owner issues, while others are outside of that base contract,” he says. “I’ve seen them run up fees, and if the co-op or condo doesn't have adequate operating reserve funds, they have to find ways to pay for these fees. Typically, they will level an assessments to cover the cost.”
Attorneys can be set up on a monthly or annual retainer, which is a flat fee that can cover services like reading contracts, making telephone calls, and attending board meetings. They can also be hired on an a-la-carte basis.