Q&A: Unpleasant Co-op Living

Q I have lived in a co-op in Little Neck, New York for 21 years. The shareholder-elected board of directors use their authority to mistreat the shareholders. They write letters that are nasty, rude and potentially derogatory. They’ve threatened me with letters when I was late with my maintenance payments during a period of time when I was caring financially and physically for my dying father. When I ask to meet with the board they ignore my request and continue to send unacceptable letters. These letters sent to the shareholders are cc’d to the co-op attorney.

Maintenance workers hand-carry our personal documents (i.e. refinancing package with mother’s maiden name, social security number, etc.) and leave it in a mail slot where anyone can take it. We have an identity thief subletting in our co-op, who has been arrested and is back living with us. I have asked them numerous times, verbally and in writing, to avoid leaving my information like this and am told, “this is how we always do it.”

They enforce the bylaws to the extent where you are treated like a criminal. I understand there are specific rules that are documented in the proprietary lease, and they add on new resolutions. However, we are not given updated copies of the proprietary lease, garage lease, etc. When you call and ask for them, the office manager is rude and refuses to send the information out. What is the extent of misuse of power by the elected board here? What recourse, besides moving, do I have in dealing with this situation?

—Had Enough in Little Neck

A “A wise man once said that there are always three versions to every story. In this case the three versions would be the letter writer’s, the board’s and the truth,” explains Andrew P. Brucker, Esq. of the Manhattan-based law firm of Schechter & Brucker, PC.

“The letter writer complains that he is being mistreated and abused by the board of his cooperative and the manager. Yet he also admits that he has not paid his maintenance in a timely manner. Without knowing all of the facts, we do know two things: first, the letter writer is obligated under his proprietary lease to pay his rent on time. The cooperative typically has a break-even budget (i.e. the income equals the expenses, though some small amount may be designated as reserve). Without all shareholders cooperating and paying their maintenance, the cooperative corporation might have financial problems.

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