In August, the New York Post reported that Eddie Wong, a resident of a luxury Greenwich Village co-op, was accused of "watching a 30-year-old neighbor through her bedroom window after she got out of the shower." According to the story, Wong faces criminal charges for unlawful surveillance, while the co-op board has filed a lawsuit to block him from “sexually predatory behavior.”
Maintaining privacy and personal boundaries among residents in a community setting is always a challenge. The nature of condo and co-op living requires neighbors to exist together in an at least semi-harmonious fashion. Attempting to get a glimpse of a fellow resident in the buff is a pretty serious breach of the social contract. Human nature may be partly to blame, but the bottom line is that creepy, inappropriate behavior has a far-reaching, toxic effect on any community if it's not nipped in the proverbial bud.
Baring It All
“I've lost count of the number of tenant shareholders who have been caught wandering nude through the hallways,” says Michael T. Manzi, a partner with the law firm of Smith, Gambrell & Russell, LLP, in Manhattan. “Sometimes, sadly, they're suffering from dementia or another type of mental illness, but other times, they are not. Sometimes it's more along the line of ‘'I was only taking my garbage to the garbage chute.'”
Manzi also recalls an instance where a couple was consistently choosing the roof of their building for loud romantic assignations. “That was disturbing to children,” he laments. “These things have to be handled delicately.”
Finally, he relates the tale of a resident threatened with a so-called Pullman action (in which a co-op shareholder is ejected from their building for being a constant nuisance or menace to neighbors and board) for “making out to a high level of inappropriateness” in the lobby. “I believe that the man involved was actually either a doorman or a super, which made it even more objectionable,” he says.
Aaron Shmulewitz, a partner with Belkin Burden Wenig & Goldman, LLP, a law firm also in Manhattan, has heard similar stories, including indecent shenanigans inside elevators that were caught on security cameras. “An Upper West Side superintendent walked around the lobby fully exposed from the waist down... before he was terminated," says Shmulewitz, "and an Upper East Side condo owner was having a long-standing affair with the building super before her husband was found dead. She was arrested for his murder.”
Of course, it's not always sexual activity in condos and co-ops, as there are plenty of other ways to creep out or generally perturb one's neighbors. Anti-Semitism is one example.
“One Park Avenue apartment owner drew a swastika on her Jewish neighbor's terrace divider after a fight,” says Shmulewitz. “The accused later claimed that it was actually a Mayan fertility symbol.”
He also recalls an Upper West Side co-op owner who kept two pet wolves -- yes, wolves -- in his apartment. “He claimed that they were an exotic dog breed.”
Bodily functions occasionally – and unfortunately – play out in communal areas as well. Jay Cohen, vice president and director of operations at A. Michael Tyler Realty Corp., tells a story of a person who took to relieving themselves in their building's hallway. “There was mental illness involved,” he says. “With a level of maliciousness toward the community, probably stemming from the former.” And Manzi remembers an owner who did something similar in an elevator after being fed up with the board.
Then there are those who just complain out of fear, paranoia, boredom, a general sense of superiority -- you name it.
“We had a situation where a contractor – an older gentleman – was working on some landscaping, and had to call his son in,” says Cohen. “The son came with his kid in a truck, and somebody [in the building] called the Department of Labor, saying that we were hiring children. We had to go through a whole child labor investigation, which was obviously eventually dismissed.”
In most of these scenarios, the perpetrator ceases any strange behavior once confronted. According to Manzi, an objectionable conduct violation may be threatened, but those occasions are very rare. “You don't find too many crazy things going on in the buildings,” Cohen says. “In luxury co-ops and condominiums, as soon as something starts to go awry, you confront people, and they'll stop.”
But as is evident above, people can be extremely weird, so best not to ever get too comfortable.
Mike Odenthal is a staff writer at The Cooperator.