Mention “problem residents” in the context of a co-op or condo building, and chances are most people will think about the noisy kids upstairs, the perpetually grumpy /litigious guy on the third floor, or the lady down the hall with 12 cats.
These characters can be irritating, certainly—but dealing with them can pale in comparison with the challenge of handling some of the more serious security and legal situations that occasionally arise in multifamily buildings. What happens when a messy divorce bars a resident from the building? When a shareholder or unit owner is arrested for embezzlement, or rape, or murder? When an owner is a scandal-prone celebrity? These situations, while relatively uncommon, pose very real challenges for the boards, managers, building attorneys, and residents who find themselves embroiled in them.
One challenge relates to communication: how does the board find out? Should key details be disseminated, or kept hush-hush? Others relate to how disruptions of a possibly criminal nature between residents affects others in the building. And then there’s the publicity angle, where a situation involves a celebrity, or, in the case of Bernie Madoff, a non-celebrity whose crimes are so heinous that he is thrust into the public eye.
It’s so obvious as to be easily overlooked, but legal issues for residents in a building only become an issue for their neighbors when everyone knows about them. How do these situations come to the attention of the board in the first place? Human nature being what it is, word does have a way of getting out.
“The doorman certainly knows about it,” says Martin Kera, a partner at the law firm of Kera & Graubard in Manhattan. Indeed, if there is a distinction among these situations, it is not between co-op and condo, but between doorman and non-doorman buildings. “It’s different if you have a doorman or a live-in super,” he says. “Especially the doormen—they know everything about everybody.”