Late last year, a conflict developed between a board and some residents at the Windsor Oak co-op in Queens over shelters protecting a colony of feral cats that lived behind the property. As the New York Post reported, a contingent of shareholders accused the board of repeatedly destroying the shelters, despite the colony being protected via its registration with the Mayor's Alliance for New York City Animals. The board apparently had apparently wanted to build a clubhouse and additional parking spaces on the land which the cats had made for their homes. Eventually, the board acquiesced to leave the cats alone and table its clubhouse dreams, but not before the seeds tension between various factions (pro-cat residents/pro-parking lot board/anti-cat residents) were planted throughout the community.
While these types of dust-ups rarely involve cat colonies, dissension between a condo or co-op board and various interest groups within the building are not rare. For every association that lives in blissful harmony, there exists another that is at each other's throats. As a board's main job is to represent its owners and shareholders and adhere to its fiduciary duty, it can be difficult to perform that primary function when a large contingency of residents is diametrically opposed to one of the board's initiatives.
Big City Squabbles
“Unfortunately, board-versus-resident fights are common,” says Thomas D. Kearns, a partner at Manhattan law firm Olshan Frome Wolosky LLP. “In one frequent dynamic, a minority consisting of a few shareholders loudly voices its specific focus. Then there are simple policy differences. But the worst situation is when a shareholder disagrees with a decision that was made with respect to themselves.
“The story about the feral cats is an example of that first type of dispute,” he continues. “A group of shareholders wanted the building to take one specific action. An alternate example of this could involve a fight over cell antennas on the roof where one group objects to installing them, despite research that shows that the antennas pose no danger.”
Ira Brad Matesky, a partner with Ganfer & Shore, a law firm also in Manhattan, offers an elevator-based anecdote to further illustrate this type of dispute. “We represented a high-end building which had traditionally-used elevator operators,” he recalls. “It was like a throwback to 70-some years ago, as these days most people know how to use an elevator themselves. So the board was determined, as an economic move, to eliminate the operators in question. This was obviously unpopular with those employees, but it also stoked the ire of some of the residents – typically the senior or longer-established ones. And perhaps the more well-off residents didn't object to the expense...I can't say for sure as I did not perform a demographic breakdown.”