New York was a city of renters until the mid-1970’s, when the trend towards co-op and condominium ownership began. Prior to that, most residents chose to live here because it was the Big Apple and for the anonymity it afforded. Unlike small-town America, New Yorkers not only cherished their privacy but coveted it. Many lived years--even decades--next to neighbors whose names they might not ever have known.
With the shift from renters to owners, that classic New York paradigm of anonymity changed. Not only did you now know your neighbors name, you were in a sense, business partners and to participate in the management, life and decision-making process for the building where you live. Such is the reward of co-op and condo life.
To Serve or Not to Serve
One major aspect of co-op living is the idea of volunteering, and the ultimate voluntary activity in your co-op or condo is to serve on the board. Boards generally consist of from five to seven members and usually are elected on an annual basis, although it’s not uncommon for board members to serve two-year terms or for the election of the seats to be skewed to different years to maintain some level of continuity on the board from year to year.
The real truth though is that board seats are harder to fill than to find. The main reason is that busy urbanites tend to guard their free time jealously and often don’t know or have concerns about how much time they will have to realistically commit to the co-op or condo each month to fulfill their duties.
Ray Levy is a board member at a 54-unit, pre-war apartment building in Washington Heights that has been a co-op for more than 20 years. Levy has served a couple of years on the board and lived in the building for a period before that. “The reality of time commitment is much better than what I imagined,” he says. “I worried about being buttonholed in the elevator with endless complaints,”—a common concern among those considering board service. He reports that didn’t happen.