Resolving Resident vs. Board Disputes Amicably

April 23, 2024

Conflicts between residents and the board of directors are, unfortunately, quite common in co-ops and condos. Disagreements over rules, noise, renovations, fees, and more can quickly escalate into heated feuds if not handled properly.

While boards have authority and enforcement powers, an overly heavy-handed approach often backfires. It's better for both sides to make every effort to resolve disputes through respectful dialogue and compromise when possible. Here are some tips:

Have a Clear Process for Hearing Grievances

Boards should establish an official system for residents to log complaints and request hearings on issues like rule violations, fines, rejection of renovation plans, etc. Having defined procedures helps lend legitimacy and demonstrates willingness to listen.  

Investigate Claims Thoroughly 

Don't just dismiss complaints out of hand. Take time to gather facts through interviews, examining evidence, and reviewing relevant bylaws and policies. Allegations shouldn't simply be accepted as truth, but shouldn't be rejected without justification either.

Communicate Rules and Rationale Clearly

In many cases, tensions arise because residents don't fully understand the reasoning behind board decisions or establishment of certain rules. Make an effort to explain the logic, get resident input, and see if compromises can be reached.

Consider Using Neutral Mediation

When parties become extremely entrenched in their positions, it can be valuable to retain an unbiased third-party mediator. These trained professionals can facilitate more productive dialogue in a neutral setting and help negotiate compromises.

Allow Appeals and Be Willing to Revisit

If a dispute can't initially be resolved through informal means, provide residents with an official appeals process to have their case heard again. Boards shouldn't view reversing an earlier decision as defeat, but as reasoned governance.

Enforce Rules Consistently and Judiciously

While rules must be enforced, boards have discretion on violations and shouldn't always resort to harsh penalties like fines or legal action right away. Start with polite requests and warnings, and only escalate enforcement if the behavior continues.

The key for both sides is maintaining open lines of communication, considering all perspectives, and working toward mutually agreeable solutions when disagreements arise. An adversarial, zero-sum mindset rarely ends well for co-op and condo communities.

7 Key Steps for Running Legitimate Co-op and Condo Board Elections 

April 16, 2024

Regular elections are a critical part of co-op and condo governance. They give unit owners/shareholders a voice in selecting those who will represent their interests on the board of directors.

However, board elections can sometimes become contentious affairs with accusations of impropriety or voter suppression. It's vital that the election process adheres to all legal requirements and governing documents to ensure legitimacy and trust in the results.

Here are some key areas boards need to get right when running their elections:

Understand Voting Eligibility Rules

The first step is knowing who is actually eligible to vote based on the bylaws and state laws. There may be requirements related to residency status, outstanding fees owed, percentage ownership interests, and more. Maintain accurate and up-to-date lists of eligible voters.

Give Proper Notice and Candidate Info

Most laws and bylaws mandate providing sufficient advance notice to all residents about elections - typically 30-60 days. Include clear instructions on how to get on the ballot as a candidate and list all candidates' background information to be shared with voters.

Allow for Proxy Voting 

Many co-op and condo residents are absentee owners or unavailable on election day. Laws generally require allowing these individuals to vote by proxy - submitting their ballot to a representative who can vote on their behalf. Have clear policies and procedures for proxy voting.

Follow Proper Ballot Handling Procedures

Take all measures to ensure ballot integrity and security. This includes oversight of ballot printing/distribution, secure ballot boxes, voter verification at polls, procedures for handling defective ballots, and more. Consider having non-board members or 3rd parties manage this process.

Ensure Transparent Tallying and Oversight 

The ballot counting process needs to be fully transparent with appropriate oversight - likely by a neutral third party election agency or committee of disinterested residents. Publish full voting results showing ballot counts for each candidate.   

Avoid Campaigning Misconduct

While campaigning is allowed (and expected!), set clear rules limiting certain tactics like aggressive solicitation, distributing false or misleading info, harassing residents, destroying other campaigns' materials, and more. 

Give Losing Parties an Appeal Process

Finally, have an process allowing any losing candidate or resident to formally contest the election results if improprieties are suspected. This could involve 3rd party review, hearings, or even new elections in some cases.

By meticulously following legal requirements and principles of fairness, co-op and condo boards can promote active participation, earn residents' trust, and avoid costly disputes over election procedures. Transparency and oversight from start to finish are key.

New York's Consumer Protection Law: A Powerful Tool for Cooperative and Condominium Boards 

April 7, 2024

New York State's General Business Law Section 349 (GBL § 349) provides a potent weapon for cooperative and condominium boards to combat deceptive business practices by unscrupulous vendors. This far-reaching consumer protection statute can help these entities protect themselves from misrepresentation, get out of unfavorable contracts, and recover damages, including attorney's fees.

The Broad Reach of GBL 349

One of the key strengths of GBL § 349 is its expansive definition of "consumer." As the New York Court of Appeals recently clarified in Himmelstein, McConnell, Gribben, Donoghue & Joseph, LLP v. Matthew Bender & Company, Inc., 37 N.Y.3d 169 (2021), the law's protections extend far beyond individuals making purchases for personal or household use. Businesses and professionals, including law firms, are also considered consumers under the statute.

This means that co-op and condo boards, as well as other corporate entities, can utilize GBL § 349 when they fall victim to deceptive business practices. The law applies to a wide range of economic activity, making it a versatile tool in many situations.

Importantly, GBL § 349 can be used against out-of-state defendants, as long as they solicit business within New York. This is crucial in today's interconnected economy, where vendors often operate across state lines.

Elements of a GBL § 349 Claim

To bring a successful claim under GBL § 349, a plaintiff must allege three elements:

The Himmelstein case provides guidance on what constitutes "consumer-oriented conduct." The court held that this requirement is met when the alleged misrepresentations are contained in a product that is marketed to and available for purchase by consumers, and the defendant's marketing and sale of the product is not limited to a single transaction or a particular buyer. 

Remedies Available Under GBL 349

GBL § 349 provides a range of remedies for plaintiffs who successfully bring a claim. These include:

The availability of attorney's fees is particularly noteworthy, as it helps level the playing field for plaintiffs who might otherwise be deterred by the cost of litigation. The potential for treble damages also serves as a strong deterrent against bad actors.

Using GBL § 349 to Get Out of Bad Contracts

In addition to recovering damages, GBL § 349 can be used to void contracts that were entered into based on deceptive practices. If a co-op or condo board can show that it was misled into signing an agreement with a vendor, it may be able to have the contract rescinded and recover any money paid.


New York's GBL § 349 is a powerful tool that cooperative and condominium boards, as well as other corporations, should be aware of. By understanding the broad scope of the law and the remedies it provides, these entities can better protect themselves from deceptive business practices and hold bad actors accountable. When faced with vendor misconduct, boards should consider whether a GBL § 349 claim may be appropriate to recover damages and deter future wrongdoing.

Protecting Your Condominium: What to Do When Board Members Breach Their Fiduciary Duties 

March 24, 2024

As a condominium unit owner in New York City, you trust your board members to act in the best interest of the community.  However, there may be instances where board members breach their fiduciary duties, such as mishandling funds, making decisions that benefit themselves rather than the condominium, or failing to maintain common areas properly.  These breaches can have severe consequences for the condominium and its owners. If you are a board member who observes such misconduct, it is crucial to take action to protect the interests of the condominium and its residents.

When a single board member observes the rest of the condominium board in New York City breaching their fiduciary duties, they have several options to address the situation, even if they are consistently outvoted:

1. Document the issues: Keep detailed records of the observed breaches, including dates, times, and the specific nature of the problem. This documentation may be useful if legal action becomes necessary.

2. Seek legal advice: Consult with an attorney specializing in New York condominium law to understand the board member's rights, obligations, and potential courses of action.  New York has specific laws governing condominiums, such as the New York Condominium Act.

3. Communicate with homeowners: Inform the condominium owners about the issues and the attempts to rectify them.  This can be done through newsletters, emails, or by requesting a special meeting of the owners, as permitted by the condominium's bylaws and the New York Condominium Act.

4. Call for a vote of no confidence: If the breaches are severe enough, the dissenting board member may call for a vote of no confidence to remove the offending board members.  This process typically requires the support of a majority of homeowners and must follow the procedures outlined in the condominium's bylaws.

5. Resign in protest: If the board member feels that their continued presence on the board is ineffective or could make them liable for the actions of the other members, they may choose to resign.  They should document their reasons for resigning and share them with the homeowners.  In the end, even if they resign, they do not become absolved of the duty to the unit owners, for the time they were on the board.  In other words, simply resigning quietly, without bringing the misconduct to the attention of the unit owners, is not an ethical option.

6. Report to relevant authorities: If the breaches are illegal or violate New York state or New York City regulations, the board member may need to report the issues to the appropriate authorities, such as the New York Attorney General's Office or the New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development.

7. File a lawsuit: As a last resort, the board member may need to file a lawsuit against the other board members for breach of fiduciary duty in New York courts.  This option can be costly and time-consuming, but may be necessary to protect the interests of the homeowners.

It's essential for the dissenting board member to act in the best interest of the condominium owners and to carefully consider the potential consequences of each course of action while adhering to the specific laws and regulations applicable to condominiums in New York City.  By taking appropriate action, a single board member can help protect the condominium and its owners from the harmful effects of breaches of fiduciary duty and other misconduct.