Since 1982, Tom Soter has been an editor at Habitat magazine, the definitive publication for boards of cooperatives and condominiums in New York City.
From HABITAT, October 2008
From the Editor 4: Crime
ALL FOR NONE (AND NONE FOR ALL)
By Tom Soter
I was home early, and had settled down to watch a little Hardball with Chris Matthews when someone decided to play hardball with me. The intercom buzzed and a man said, “I have a check for you.” Knowing that my 22-unit co-op’s commercial tenant (who subleases the ground-floor space) was late with his rent, I thought, “That’s probably him, wanting to make nice over the check.”
When I went downstairs, there was a slightly built bald man standing by the outside door. I opened it and said, “Yes, can I help you?
He looked at me, his eyes blazing with anger. “Is this you?” he said loudly, waving the certified envelope in which I had sent him a letter advising him that he was late. “Is this you?” he shouted.
“Yes,” I said, taken aback by the intensity of his emotion.
He took a half step towards me and threw the paper in my face, brandishing a fist. “If you ever send me one of these motherf—ing notes again I will kill you!” he screamed, lunging at me. I quickly slammed the door, forcing it shut as he pushed on it. “I’ll kill you!” he cried, banging on the door.
After a moment, he started walking down the steps; I opened the door and yelled after him: “If you ever come around here again, I’ll call the police.”
He pivoted suddenly and ran towards me; I shut the door, and he banged on it again. “If you send one again, I’ll kill you!”
I am the board president of my small co-op, and I’ve heard from angry shareholders, pissed-off staff members, and even an irate manager or two – but my life has never been threatened because of a late notice. I suppose stranger things have happened – but not to me.
I made a report to the police, and although they were sympathetic, they weren’t very helpful (apparently, I would have had a stronger case if he had actually hit me). The next day, a detective phoned, who was Inspector Clouseau-like in his manner: he seemed to have all the facts wrong and capped the conversation by asking if I knew where to find the commercial tenant’s offices. “You only have a P.O. box,” he complained. A simple trip to Google produced the address and also several newspaper articles about the commercial tenant, who was a slumlord apparently prone to verbally abusing tenants when they complained about their apartments. I passed this information on to the investigating sleuth, but he didn’t seem particularly grateful or interested in my dilemma.
Somewhat shaken by this cavalier attitude towards (my) life and death, I mentioned the incident to Jim Samson, an attorney and partner at Samson Fink & Dubow. Jim was more sympathetic, but equally blasé: “I’ve been threatened before,” he said to me, adding: “Guys who make threats like that rarely carry them out. He’s too smart. He doesn’t want to end up in jail.” The lawyer then launched into a pair of anecdotes about how he had survived death threats, one by a managing agent whom he had ticked off.
I was almost reassured until Jim added: “You should probably get an order of protection, so he doesn’t come near you.” In other words, I needn’t worry because the threats were empty but I’d better get a protective order just in case they weren’t.
Only slightly comforted, I talked with Andrea Bunis, principal at Andrea Bunis Management. Protection orders? Sure, her board members got them all the time, she said, as though we were discussing what sort of bagels to order for breakfast. To get one, I would apparently have to go to my local precinct and then to the courthouses downtown, where a judge would sign off on it. This notice would be sent to the tenant, who would, of course, abide by it peacefully, as any reasonable person would.
Ha! I grunted bitterly to myself, feeling like the abandoned Gary Cooper in High Noon. That emotion was intensified when one member of my board, for some reason, tried to separate me, Tom the Individual, from me, Tom the Board President, seeming to indicate that Individual Tom had to take care of himself because he was the one who got the threat – not the board. (I tried to explain that I was being threatened because I was doing the board’s work but was about as successful as Kevin McCarthy had been at getting people to believe him in Invasion of the Body Snatchers).
A bit down about it all, I mentioned the incident (in the abstract) to co-op attorney Bruce Cholst, a partner at Rosen & Livingston. “A board member attacked!” he said, with sincere shock in his voice. “I’ve never heard of such a thing!”
Ah, thank goodness for innocent, conscientious Bruce Cholst! The last of the true believers. Serving on the board may be a thankless job – but you occasionally do want some sympathy. And, of course, a bulletproof vest.
October 25, 2008