Sex, Lies and Videotape? Confessions of a Co-op/Condo Attorney

As lawyers for many of Manhattan's cooperative and condominium boards, we often advise clients on issues that go far beyond proprietary leases and bylaws. Boards are frequently faced with situations ranging from fiery domestic disputes to embezzlement. Thus, we find ourselves providing legal advice on—as we call it—the "Law of the Jungle." A few memorable examples involve marital discord, criminal investigations, drugs and even firearms.

One of our condo clients received an alarming call from a newly married resident who had just found out her husband was cheating on her. She demanded that the doorman bar the "philanderer" from the building when he returned home that evening (and, presumably, thereafter). She threatened to severely injure her husband if was allowed into the residence. The situation was further complicated by the fact that the husband's parents owned the couple's apartment.

Because the wife had threatened injury, we advised our client to call the husband and warn him of the threat. We also suggested informing the wife that neither the board, nor the building's staff, could or would deny her husband access to their apartment. Until the couple resolved their marital dispute, all doormen were instructed to buzz upstairs every time the husband arrived at the building.

When several board presidents of posh Upper East Side co-ops were accused of embezzlement, we participated in the investigation. In one case, more than $1,000,000 of the co-op's money was traced to the personal projects of a president. The investigation also revealed a series of questionable "loans" in excess of $500,000 made to the corporation by its former counsel. (It is completely improper for corporate counsel to ever loan money to a co-op or condo client.) Unfortunately, since the relevant statute of limitations had expired and the central witness had "left the country," our client elected not to pursue the matter further.

We were asked to investigate a former board president's bid-rigging for major capital improvement projects in the building. Our investigation revealed that the president had not only conspired with a contractor to submit the winning bid, but this same contractor was also constructing an addition to the president's country house. Additionally, the former president had sponsored an immigration application for a principal of the contractor. Needless to say, the board immediately implemented procedures to guard against such future improprieties.

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