When Co-Ops and Condos Are Caught Off Guard Property Managers Share Stories of Unusual Occurrences at Their Buildings

One property manager spoke of an unusual occurrence involving a cornice (iStock).

In late February, as reported by the Associated Press, a Massachusetts man crashed a homemade aircraft into the roof of a condominium building, resulting in the tragic death of the pilot. Because this happened in the middle of a Tuesday afternoon, few people were inside the building, and, thankfully, no one else was hurt.

A good homeowner's association recognizes – and saves money for – any possible rainy day, but the grim truth is that some things are just outside the realm of prediction. There's a fine line between being prepared and being paranoid, and having a contingency plan ready for an instance wherein someone flies a single-occupant aircraft into your property most likely ranks as the latter. Ideally, a board and its management company will be well-organized and functional enough that, should something unusual and potentially dangerous happen, they can react in a way that minimizes damage and adequately protects residents.

It's Coming From Inside the House

The occasional dramatic incident is an entirely internal affair and thus can give residents of a condo or co-op deserved pause about their safety at home. If a resident acts in a way that can cause property damage or, much more alarmingly, bodily harm to their neighbors, a board must react immediately in a way that restores the faith of their community.

“We managed a building in Forest Hills many years ago, and there were neighbors--one party living above the other--that were at each others' throats for quite some time,” recalls Robert Rinaldo, vice president of D&J Management in Queens. “One of the owners was a woman living alone; the other was a man and a woman. They were of an older generation; I believe in their 70s. As management, we, with the board, would have to step in when they would lodge complaints about one another and referee.

“I cannot confirm that this was true, but, allegedly the married woman believed that her single neighbor had an eye for her husband,” Rinaldo continues. “And the husband was a rather well-known salsa musician. There was a lot going on. And, one day, upon arriving to the building's sole elevator simultaneously, things came to a boil. I can't remember which woman was responsible, but one pulled out a gun, and threatened to shoot the other. Suffice to say, things got scary. I want to say that a shot was, in fact, fired, but no one was hit or injured. Thankfully there wasn't a horrible ending. But it made the news; the media had fun with it, running headlines along the lines of 'Pistol-Packing Grandma,' hyping the love triangle angle.

“On our end of it, we were mortified that it ever happened, but there was nothing more anyone could have done,” he concludes. "It was a police matter, and was resolved as such, with one party leaving the building immediately after, which was necessary; residents cannot safely go about their business in a building where anyone may randomly open fire in the elevator. “

Outside Influence

Other times, an association can get thrown into disarray due to an outside actor. This can be easier to reconcile than the former scenario, as residents have no need to point fingers or fear their neighbors, but it's not without its own complications.

“We hired a security guard company at one of our properties, but after some time, we decided to build up an internal staff rather than work with an outside security or concierge contractor,” says Jay Cohen, vice president and director of operations with A. Michael Tyler Realty Corp., in Manhattan. “The owner of the company we'd hired was not happy with this, so he actually came to the building and stole all of our keys out of the lock box.

“And much of the time, these guys who run security companies are retired police,” Cohen continues. “When I called the authorities to complain, they listened to me, but nothing happened. I called back a month later, only to hear that there was no record of my prior complaint. We had already changed the locks and make all new keys; it cost thousands of dollars. We could have gotten duplicate keys made the next day, but residents were reasonably unhappy that there were copies of the originals just floating around out there, so the lock change was imperative.”

When Nature Calls

And then, there are instances when only Mother Nature is to blame for a property disaster.

“I had a cornice on a 15-story building – it was 10-feet tall and 200-feet wide – get ripped off the front of the property and dangle precariously over a double-wide street,” says Steven Greenbaum, director of property management and asset management at Mark Greenberg Real Estate, based in Long Island. “This was on 110th Street, where there's a wind tunnel that comes through Central Park. And not only was everything up to code, but the cornice had actually just been inspected as part of a facade project, and even tightened up and made stronger. There were photos and engineering reports; all documented. After the incident, to make sure that the engineers didn't miss anything, the insurance company sent their engineers, who confirmed that we'd done everything right; that the reports were legitimate. There were more belts and suspenders on this thing than you can imagine.

“This went down on a Friday night; some pieces of the cornice fell to the ground, but no one was hurt,” Greenbaum continues. “I was out of the city, but I managed to get riggers, mortar proofers, various people to get a bridge up immediately that night, cordoning off the street as needed, over the phone. We actually had the cornice hoisted up and tied through the window of an apartment, bracing it around a kitchen wall such that we could pull it up properly the next day, in the light. The whole thing had to then come down in pieces, which was easily as difficult as getting it up. We had to be careful to take it down without doing further damage. We had a lot of hands on deck – including the fire department – to provide the required foresight, creative engineering and ingenuity.

“At the end of the day, the insurance company covered every expense, which helped alleviate the sting,” Greenbaum notes. “But it was a landmarked building, so we had to install a new cornice that matched the old one, a hand-fabricated piece; we had to weigh metal vs. fiberglass, and ensure that the same thing never happens again. It was a complicated fix.”

One can prepare for various types of rainy days and still be completely taken by surprise. The best boards and management companies are those that are nimble and streamlined enough to step up when something completely unforeseeable goes down, assuaging any doubt residents have that they are in capable hands.

Mike Odenthal is a staff writer at The Cooperator.

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