Guest: Co-op owner in the Village hits a brick wall

Flickr photo by Joriel "Joz" Jimenez

The resident of a co-op in Greenwich Village, Naomi Fein has had something more sinister than an educational experience.  It has turned into acrimony between her and the building’s majority shareholder, a bitter lawsuit and revelations about real estate brokers whose self-serving manipulation of a sale enrage her.  To follow her sad saga as it continues, visit her Web site.

By Naomi Fein

My residence is in a small 160-year-old townhouse in West Greenwich Village. It has been a co-op since 1988, when I purchased my beautiful studio apartment for $36,000.

In the 1990s, the original sponsors, two guys from Florida, began to buy back the apartments that they didn’t already own. (There are six studios and a charming garden duplex.)  When they offered to buy me out for enough money so that I could easily purchase an ample West Village closet, I declined—graciously, in my opinion.

Then, one of the guys died, leaving me as a co-owner with his surviving outside shareholder, whom I’ll call Billy.

In 2001, I came home one night to a surprise: a “Building For Sale” sign  swinging lazily in the breeze right outside my window.

Naturally, I phoned the real estate agent named on the sign and told her she couldn’t sell a whole building that her client didn’t own.  Her response was to snap at me.

My next call was to Billy.  I explained to him how he would make much more out of the sale if he actually did own the whole building instead of just acting as if he did by having had the sign placed.

The problem was that he couldn’t afford to buy me out.   And I wasn’t about to sell for a price that would allow me to leave what I think of as the most appealing one-room apartment in the world for another one-room unit.

What I wanted was a one-bedroom in the Village, which at then-current prices would have run me around $350,000.

Billy and I developed a plan: We’d sell the building together and he’d pay me $350,000 at the closing.  If that had worked out, I wouldn’t be writing this account.

Enter three members of a family from Ohio.  They purchased Billy’s share–2,152 vs. my 328–and consequently controlled the Board of Directors.

The next critical development was this: In 2005, the clan fired me from the board after I questioned the way they were handling the building.  Aside from them, another member of the board was a lawyer whom they had installed.  He subsequently died, probably of shame.

Because the family has been months in arrears consistently, now a whole year, the co-operative owes three years of property taxes along with late fees and fines.

Almost worse, they have charged all their expenses to the co-op in excess of $50,000, caused us to receive Con Ed shut-off notices regularly, seized property that belonged to the co-op by annexing it to the duplex unit without buying or reapportioning shares, never once issued financial statements and neither filed nor paid corporate taxes.

In addition, they have received violations and penalties from city agencies, even for dangerous conditions.  And. . . And! They collect some $11,000 a month in rent while failing to pay bills.

So why, years later, am I still in my studio apartment in that very same townhouse and why am I embroiled in a lawsuit over it?

Answer: Billy had hired the worst and least honorable real estate agents in the city and needlessly gave them the exclusive right to screw up.

And screw up, they did.

They kept their “exclusive” on the building and, among other tactics, thwarted other agents with genuine buyers.

Thus, it took them a couple of years to find an interested buyer–by which time prices of apartments were zooming upward and I could no longer afford to sell for $350,000.   Moreover, that interested buyer turned out to be the despicable family from Ohio family.

The examples of that family’s financial and structural malfeasance are so many and varied that I wonder whether I should coin a collective noun for multiple instances of malfeasance in a single co-op.

My mistake was assuming that someone besides me would have checked out the family’s credit. The real estate brokers? Billy? The bank?

As the only essentially independent member of the board, I should have thoroughly investigated them.  Yes, I’ve heard of Google, but it never occurred to me to search their names.

And, boy, am I paying.

“As an expert in co-op litigation,” I recently asked my attorney, who earns $450 an hour, “you’ve dealt with a situation like this, right?”

He shook his head slowly, very, very slowly.

No, he responded, he’s never seen anything like it.

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Malcolm Carter
Licensed Associate Real Estate Broker
Senior Vice President
Charles Rutenberg Realty
127 E. 56th Street
New York, NY 10022

M: 347-886-0248
F: 347-438-3201
Web site

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