When a long-time renter purchases a co-op or a condo apartment, the move is perceived as a step up. No longer are you just shelling out rent every month—you're building equity, investing in your own security. Regardless of whether your new home is a co-op or a condo, you have a stake in maintaining your building—and by implication, your neighborhood.
Sometimes however, this new reality—being a property owner, as opposed to a renter—doesn't quite sink in. All too often, a co-op or condo unit owner doesn't see much of a day-to-day difference between owning and renting. After all, aren't monthly maintenance fees pretty much the same as rent? Aren't the board members and the managing agent essentially landlords? They collect the money and enforce the house rules, right?
This sort of viewpoint, while common, contributes to many of the problems board members and managers report when trying to run their buildings: apathy among residents, us-vs.-them animosity toward boards and managing agents, and a weak sense of personal responsibility for the well-being of the building and its community as a whole.
The Renter's Mentality
"Rent" may be a four-letter word, but it doesn't have to be a dirty one—the dichotomy between renters and owners isn't cut-and-dry by any stretch of the imagination, and many renters are every bit as conscientious about their buildings as any owner. Many city-dwellers recall the "old neighborhoods" of the 1950s and '60s whose rental tenants made a fetish of cleanliness, took enormous pride in their buildings and admonished children for hanging out in the lobby or loitering on the stoop.
According to Tasia Pavalis, a former board member at the Salem House condo on East 81st Street in Manhattan, "We have renters who have been here forever, since before the building was a condo, who care deeply about the building. We have investment owners [who rent out their apartments] who just see it as a way of making money; and we have resident owners who really care about the place."