When Co-op Board Interviews Go Bad Discrimination, Inappropriate Behavior, and Oddity

As with a first date or job interview, sitting before a cooperative board to plead your case for buying into its community is a daunting prospect. Though the pressure may be high, board interviews tend to be pretty straightforward. But what about those outlier encounters, when one party just can’t help but rub the other the wrong way, leading to a downward spiral of squirm-inducing, invasive, or just downright awkward conversation?

Be Careful

As attorney Matthew Leeds, a partner with the Manhattan-based law firm of Garner & Shore, LLP points out, one of the more atrocious board interview debacles was documented in the Biondi v. Beekman Hill House Apartment Corp. case of 2000, in which “a member of the board privately had notes that observed in weird and offensive ways that he had interviewed a mixed-race couple, [Gregory and Shannon Broome], to sublet an apartment.” There was, appropriately, an action filed charging discrimination, through which these notes came to light.

The lesson in Biondi for all board members is to take care during its deliberations because the court found Nicholas Biondi, the board president at the time, personally liable for damages. The court awarded the couple $230,000 in compensatory damages and $410,000 in punitive damages, of which Biondi was personally liable for $125,000. Insurance paid a majority of the final negotiated settlement, but Biondi had to sell his apartment to cover the remaining costs and associated legal fees.

Of course overt racism isn’t the only stuff of head-shaking board interviews. “I typically avoid being present during interviews, but I happened to arrive early for a co-op meeting and caught the tail-end of one,” says Georgia Lombarto-Barton, president of Barton Management LLC in New York City. “One of the board members asked the purchaser, a single female, unbeknownst to the board member, what she was planning to do if she and her boyfriend broke up. He went on to ask whether she ‘planned to date multiple people’ or ‘ease back into the scene.’” Correctly assessing this line of questioning as both inappropriate and irrelevant, the purchaser responded by pondering why this was being asked, and whether any of this was against the rules of the property. After an awkward ten-second silence, the board member simply replied, “No, not yet.”

Amore, No More

Snezan Cebic, an associate broker with the Brooklyn office of Douglas Elliman Real Estate, says he doesn’t “have enough hands to count the number of times that women have been asked about their love lives—obliquely, of course—by co-op boards. I also once heard a story of a board member mentioning that he could hear the wall shaking with someone they’d already approved, and that this disturbance on a regular basis was driving him nuts.” If you’re not wincing already, the board member was referring to his neighbor’s sexual behavior.

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3 Comments

  • Vice president Board on Wednesday, April 06, 2016 8:52 AM
    This is a clumsy article to say the least. Why would someone advise that a building had a noise problem? Because it is true and meant to disclose. It is not disparaging. Anyone who doesn't purchase due to that reveal gives wild parties or plays very loud music. We have a terrific noise problem due to faulty insulation and always explain about 80% floor covering and not to play loud music after late hours We don't allow dogs or musical instruments. A word to the wise avoids litigation between shareholders later. Such a reveal is not outside the norm at all. A board member had private notes that proved discrimination? How were those recovered? We always shred all documents after interviews.
  • Having sat through twenty or so of these, I can attest they are the most uncomfortable meetings. First, my favorite are the questions from long standing board members who couldn't pass a board interview or coop requirements of their life depended on it. They always ask the most probing, unnecessary and inappropriate question. what sort of Mercedes do you own? Why so little in your retirement account? Or asking questions blatantly on the application. I cannot think of an interview session where race, sexual preference etc ever came up in the actual interview, though it certainly came up before hand.. Oddly, most often by the gay president. As for people interviewing , we had someone acknowledge they lie on their tax return as a small business owner.. That was an automatic rejection. I would say that most people just lie , answering questions as they believe the board wants to hear them. Sniffing that out, is the art.
  • The board with the bipolar applicant absolutely had grounds to reject, since the applicant divulged that she lost jobs due to it, which would jeopardize ability to pay the co-op maintenance.