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, December 2010

From the Editor 25: No Dithering

by | Nov 24, 2019 | Articles, Habitat 1982- Present


The three incidents at the Manhattan co-op happened within two weeks of each other, and each was disturbing in its own way.

Incident No. 1 came to the attention of the board via e-mail. “Dear Distinguished Board,” the e-mail began with what was apparently sarcasm, “Tonight I entered our condo and it appears that someone else has been in the condo without notification. (1) Please be observant of anyone entering 6B without authorization. I am changing the locks for good. (2) Please take ‘Smith’ off of the door directory. He has requested that he be removed via e-mail and we have requested that he be removed. He was a renter. (3) If any of you have keys and/or have entered, please disclose yourself and return the keys to my husband and me immediately. (4) Please offer the same board consideration and oversight that you would offer to your own families. Thank you.” 

The board members on the receiving end of this missive were both alarmed and irritated. Alarmed that anyone could enter a shareholder’s apartment and irritated by the patronizing tone of the comments.

The co-op board president looked into the matter immediately. Then, he wrote the complaining shareholder a letter. “As you know,” it began, “we are preparing to do capital work on the building. One of the projects we are repairing is the fire escape. Our engineer needed access to the front fire escape from an apartment, and [the super] let him in through your apartment…I apologize for this unauthorized entry. I have talked with [the super] and [he is] sorry for the incident and has been instructed that in the future he should notify you, your husband, and the board before entering anyone’s unit.”

The letter added a warning: “…if you change the locks, the house rules require that the board have a duplicate set. If there is a flood or other emergency in your apartment, we will need to gain access to your apartment. If we do not have keys, we will be forced to break down your door, at your expense…And,” he added in a polite knock, “just for your information, you are living in a cooperative housing corporation not a condominium housing association.”

Incident 2 occurred within a few days of Incident 1, when the treasurer was leaving the building and noticed a stocky man inside the (doorman-free) lobby apparently polishing the glass.

“Excuse me,” the board member said, “were you hired by the super?”


“Well, then who told you to enter our building and clean the windows?”

No answer.

“Who was it?” he repeated.

“I can’t say.”

“Then you had better leave.”

No one knows where the mystery cleaner came from – there was speculation that he was paid by the mob to keep neighborhood businesses clean and had somehow gotten confused – but it did convince the board that it was time to (at the least) change the locks.

Incident 3 was even more alarming. A strange odor permeated the lower regions of the six-story property. Upon investigation, the board discovered that the smell was coming from a leak of waste products from the building next door into its property. The leak had started on Monday, and on Tuesday, the board talked to its neighbor’s manager, and he assured them he would take care of it. By Friday, with the smell continuing and the waste possibly eroding the co-op building’s foundation, the board again contacted the manager. He had, he said, put the job out for multiple bids and had gotten no takers.

Multiple bids? Hadn’t he ever heard the term “emergency” – or the phrase, “hang the cost”?

He was clueless. The board got tough. In a letter, the president made no bones about where the directors stood: “The situation needs to be corrected today. If you do not do so, we will hire a plumber and bill it back to your building. We also have an engineer coming to look at the damage, and we will bill your building for his services, as well, and also bill your building for any repairs to our foundation that need to be made. This is an emergency, not a time to wait for multiple bids. It is your responsibility because the leak is coming from your property.”

The manager replied tersely: “Send in your plumber.” The board hired Roto-Rooter, who came in and fixed the problem within 24 hours. (As their motto summed it up, “Away go troubles down the drain.”

The overarching moral of these stories: if you’ve got a problem, don’t dither. Deal with it. That’s why you get paid the big bucks. (Ha ha.) Money aside, it’s your home, so protect it.