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?
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.