The Changing of the Guard How Shifting Demographics Can Affect House Rules

One important attribute of any condominium or cooperative board is that it manifests the best interests of its owner or shareholder base. This requires a certain attentiveness, as the wants and needs of residents are likely to change over time for any number of factors. Neighborhoods and communities are wont to evolve, and a board must be ready to adapt in tune.

Recently, as reported by Michelle Higgins in The New York Times in May, a 14-building co-op complex in Jackson Heights, Queens, lifted a long-held ban on walking on its grass. Now this may sound like a minor alteration in policy, but in New York, space is at a premium and lush landscapes are rare. A board may think that preserving its grassy knolls is paramount, as they add to the property value and can be easily trampled by pets or rambunctious children. But, clearly, in this instance, the tide had changed to the point that being able to enjoy the outdoor common areas emerged as the dominant priority. Which begs the questions: in what other areas are attitudes changing in communal living? How does a board best go about appealing to the desires of a newer demographic without alienating the old guard? From whence does conflict arise?

Yikes, Gripes

Some rules that fall to the wayside—or rile up residents when they do not—do so because they were always just kind of bad. Stephen Elbaz, president of Esquire Management Corporation in Brooklyn, has recently dealt with such a headache at one of his properties. "We had a new board come in to run a 50-year-old post-war elevator property in Brooklyn," he says. "As an apartment rounds that half-century mark, certain things need to be changed or repaired; bathrooms, kitchens and wood floors just don't have that kind of life expectancy. But this building had a rule in place prohibiting the installation of new bathrooms, no matter what. It was the complete opposite of logic. Residents don't want a ratty old bathtub, but the board argued that changing them out would have too great an impact on the plumbing. This was a major cause of consternation."

Sublet policies vary wildly from property to property and from condo to co-op, and can provide another reason for boards and owners to be at loggerheads. "In my experience, sublet policies tend to go up and down with the times," says Elbaz. "Some buildings are very liberal, and others will greatly restrict or prohibit sublets, which causes a hardship on people. If you have someone going away to university, or undergoing a non-permanent job transfer such that they have to leave for a year or so, and they can't sublet their apartment, they have to either leave it empty, which causes a financial burden, or sell it, which may not be ideal for them."


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