Dealing with a coop management board

Why is it, one can laugh at a sitcom, and yet when one’s own situation is equally grim, one cannot see any humour? As if I was watching an episode of Only Fools And Horses, or Seinfeld I have moments when I see the eerie similarity between other unit owners and members of the co-op board and Michael Richards (“Kramer”), Roger Lloyd-Pack (“Trigger”) or even David Jason (“Del Boy”/ “Derrick”). And I start to laugh, but then I realise, this is my life and I want to cry.

But let me roll back a bit. Over 20 years ago, my wife and I bought a flat on the top of a co-op building. Right under the roof, the unit has stunning views and we remodelled it to suit our tastes. The previous owner had, in passing, mentioned that there had been some leaks in the roof. But he had been handy with a tube of sealant and there had not been a problem since.

In our eagerness to move in, we did not do an inspection (mistake number one), and also failed to note that the place had been recently painted (mistake number two). The latter should have been a red flag to say, they’re hiding something while the former, as a professional, would have alerted us to the dire state of the metal roof. 

Alas, we were smitten. Immediately engaged an architect and a few months later, took possession.

Even though the builders had replaced the ceiling, they never mentioned that the roof itself was chock-a-block riddled with pin-holes and tears. And soon, with every major storm, we started seeing the tell-tales, brown water stains on our ceiling and running down the walls.

With the first sign of damage, we alerted the building manager. And he, the coop board. And so began our 20 years of begging, pleading, threatening, and ill-at-ease standoff with nearly the entire rest of the building.

Another one of our pre-purchase mistakes was not checking the co-op funds. It seems that in our building, there was no pool of money being saved up for overall renovation – let alone the replacement of a 30-year-old metal roof. The co-op board boasted that metal roofs should last 100 years so why would they set aside anything for such now? (The fact that the roof was poorly installed was never a consideration.)

Surely though, the building management team, being professionals, would sort this out. And while they made all the right sounds, despite being licensed, they were either in league or more likely incompetent.

Dealing with incompetence, in itself is a whole other post. Suffice it to say, it is a drain on anybody who is a professional. In a Lensa article on the topic, I found myself running the gamut of coping strategies, but without success. The only redress ultimately was to go through the RICS guidelines to residential properties, find violations and submit a formal complaint.

Trying to get the management sacked was equally difficult. The other owners were either as obtuse as those found on any sitcom, or more cynically, knew that replacing the roof would be an enormous extraordinary cost and did not want to dig too deeply into their pockets. Between both parties, we endured counter-arguments claiming for example that we were at fault because we:

  • Periodically walked on the roof – ignoring all the other satellite dishes installed by the other units
  • Had changed non-bearing walls which had somehow caused the whole building to shift
  • Installed an air-conditioner – a dozen feet away from most of the leaks.

Despite part of the roof rolling back like a top of a tin of sardines, a couple of times, somehow it was always on us, the people living directly under the roof.

When all else failed, for us, the solution was to take a legal route. While the solicitor we engaged dissuaded us from going nuclear, she instead, devised a series of steps to force the hand of the board.

Among the many steps, one critical moment was having 3 different professional roofers address the cooperative board. Of the many reasons to hire professional roofers the biggest is that, especially when they all concur, the non-professional tightwads run out of excuses. 

After over 20 years, finally, it seems, the other owners are looking at how they can fund such. Although, they too have suggested that the building itself take out a loan.

And the building management? They are now proposing their sister company be asked to submit a bid. If this is not a show on Netflix in the not so distant future, I will be disappointed.

Claire Preece