President's Perspective: In the Eye of the Storm Solving Major Renovation Problems

There I was, innocently removing empty cartons from my new condominium unit. I was approached by a woman on my floor asking why I'd left the cartons where I did. I politely, but firmly, informed her that I was following the superintendent's instructions. Little did I know that I was already being scouted to be a board member.

Several months later, after inviting me to dinner and chatting me up, my neighbor informed me that there was an open position on the board, and she thought that I should volunteer to fill the position. So, four or five months after I moved in, I wrote to the president, volunteering to fill out the term of the person who left the board.

Not long after I joined the board, the president announced his resignation. You guessed it. I was tapped to be the new president. Thus started an odyssey that has, so far, lasted for 11 years!

I eased into my presidential shoes slowly and carefully. We had an experienced property manager who was extremely helpful. However, little did I know that I had stepped into a hornet's nest of projects that had been set aside for some time. These projects had been put on hold because our financial situation did not permit any major projects. My predecessor put our condo on a solid financial footing and started to rebuild our reserve fund, but here I was with a dazzling array of work that needed to be done.

The most significant project was waterproofing our garage. The deck waterproofing membrane had failed and it was necessary to walk through portions of the garage with an open umbrella. There had been some "band-aid remedies" to deal with structural issues, but the underlying issue of a failed waterproofing membrane had been ignored.

I took a deep breath and told the board that if we did not do something to remedy the situation, we'd have a serious problem on our hands. Serious enough to close down the garage. That would put 142 cars on the street! No one would be happy about that.

We commissioned an engineer's report. While we were not surprised at the results of the report, we were stunned by the potential cost. The engineer estimated the cost of the total project at $2.8 million dollars. We are a 142-unit condominium. Our reserves were just being rebuilt. The only answer was an assessment. And not a small one. Our job was to sell the need for garage restoration to all unit owners. We needed an 80 percent approval vote to move forward with the work.

Given the size of the project and the size of our condominium we knew that we could not do the entire project at once. We broke the project into three phases (we actually ended up doing all the work in two phases), doing the most critical work first. We estimated that we could then wait a few years before finishing up the project, giving us some time to build our reserves and possibly use some of that money to offset another assessment.

But wait, we then had a new problem. We needed to replace all four of our hot water heaters. After much discussion, we used reserve money to pay for that. We knew that we could not assess owners for the hot water heaters and then come to them with the huge renovation assessment.

We had to present our case for a $1 million dollar assessment, the cost of the first phase of the project, well in advance of the annual meeting. First we sent a letter reviewing the history and explaining the need to do this work. Next we called an informal unit owner meeting to answer their questions. We brought the engineer to answer any technical questions. Our attorney also attended that meeting to discuss the legal ramifications of not doing the work. We would be at risk of having the garage shut down by New York City if it became a hazard. No one wanted that.

Wait—then we had another problem—an emergency gas line replacement: about $120,000. Again, we had the breath knocked out of us. Our engineer informed us that we had breaches in our gas line that were dangerous. We had to replace the entire gas line.

The board kept the unit owners informed of all the issues. We were concerned that we would not have a quorum at the annual meeting, which meant that we could not take a vote on the garage renovation. We started a campaign to encourage owners to attend the meeting and to collect proxies of those who would not attend. As a last resort, we could declare an emergency and move forward—but we did not want to do that. We wanted the approval of unit owners.

Then came the night of the annual meeting, and between attendees and proxies, we had a quorum. We brought down a bank representative to discuss loan options. We wanted to make this as easy as we could for the owners. The vote passed by a comfortable margin.

With help from our property manager we got through a difficult and long renovation. The weather was against us for a portion of the work, and the completion was delayed. The project has now been completed and the results speak for themselves. We have a dry garage and a handsome deck.

We still have work to do. Since we are a small condominium, we will always have to turn to the owners to pay for major expenses. However, this is our home and we need to maintain it. We have already developed a list of priorities for the next five to ten years.

Little did I know that that chance meeting in the hallway would lead to more than a decade of service on the board. In the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson, "The reward of a thing well done, is to have done it."

Roz Sackoff is president of the Bayside Mews Condominium in Bay Terrace. The opinions stated in this column are solely those of the writer, and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Cooperator, its editorial staff, or Yale Robbins, Inc.


Editor's Note: Contributions by board presidents to the new "President's Perspectives" column are welcomed. Please send submissions of 800–1,000 words on pertinent topics of interest to the co-op/condo community to debbie@cooperator.com.

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