In her charming and funny book “The Last Blind Date” (full disclosure, I am in there as her real estate agent), Linda Yellin allows a whole chapter for her co-op Board experience. Coming from Chicago, or anywhere else in the world, I understand how bizarre and invasive this process can seem. Since 2011 has been a bad year for turndowns (and no, most of them are NOT about the Board being unhappy with the price), I thought I would make some suggestions as to what a reasonable and fair Board process might look like.
The City Council has some Board related legislation under review, as I discussed in a blog earlier in the year. That legislation, modeled after a similar bill passed on Long Island, has aroused the opposition of the Council for New York Co-operatives and is therefore probably doomed to failure. But I do believe a reasonable bill could pass, and that Boards and managing agents could themselves take steps to make the process more expeditious and transparent. To whit:
- Time parameters – give the Boards 30 days to review a package and ask for more information, schedule an interview, or reject. And don’t make an exception for the summer. That’s why conference calls exist. And then give them 15 days after the meeting to provide a response. There is no reason why this part of the process cannot be expedited. People’s lives are on hold waiting for the outcome.
- Standardize all the forms so the purchase applications and financial statements are identical across the spectrum of buildings. Make sure the purchase applications are free of questions which violate Fair Housing rules. Put those forms on line.
- Require that all Board members receive an annual half hour of Fair Housing education from a professional (this excellent suggestion which I wrote about a while back comes from Hall Willkie, President of Brown Harris Stevens. It would go a long way towards eliminating inappropriate or illegal behavior)
- Create a firewalled virtual package for every building so thousands of pages of paper don’t get wasted on every package which is submitted.
- Finally (and this is beyond the realm of legislation) let the same presumption of innocence which our legal system promises to criminal defendants apply to co-op Board applicants. Board members, if the financials aren’t clear, ask a question. Don’t be so quick to turn the thumbs down on good people with reasonable assets. The vast majority of Board rejectees are upstanding, would pay their maintenance in a timely manner, and would be pleasant, neighborly co-shareholders. Let’s give apparently qualified people the benefit of the doubt!
Forget about making Boards legally responsible for giving a reason for every rejection; it is never going to pass in Manhattan and would create a liability nightmare which would make any sane person balk at joining their Board. It just isn’t practical. But some improvements in the current system, like those I address above, are both achievable and necessary. Let’s start there.