The Co-op as Legal Entity New York City’s Housing Model

Rare in all but a few cities around the country, residential co-ops are by far the most prevalent type of owner-occupied apartment in New York City, outnumbering condos by 3-1 by some estimates.

According to a study commissioned by NYU’s Furman Center for Real Estate and Urban Policy in 2006, “Only one other city, Washington, D.C., has an unusually large proportion of cooperative housing, and this share (24.2 percent) does not come close to matching that of New York City.”

A Brief History of Co-ops

According to “A History of Housing Cooperatives” in the National Cooperative Law Center Journal, the housing co-op movement was born in 19th century Europe— primarily in Great Britain and France—as an affordable alternative to rental tenement flats. When they sprouted in New York City, where the first co-ops in the U.S. were established, they were formed for an entirely different clientele.

One of the first co-ops in New York City, The Randolph, built in 1876 on West 18th Street in Manhattan, was “designed to provide people in high income brackets with the advantages and economies of individual home ownership without all the responsibilities,” wrote attorney Richard Siegler, of counsel, with the law firm Stroock & Stroock & Lavan, LLP, quoted in the Furman Center report.

Another notable co-op, the Rembrandt, built in 1881 at 152 West 57th Street, was designed for “people of means and good social standing” according to its developers, quoted by architectural historian Christopher Gray in the New York Times. Several co-ops were built on the Rembrandt model in the early 1980s, but some more egalitarian cooperatives were formed a bit later.

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