How I became a plaintiff in a co-op lawsuit

As citizens of this [co-operative corporation] you are the rulers and the ruled, the lawgivers and law-abiding, the beginning and the end. – Adlai Stevenson

When last you left me, I’d stuffed my unread fat Proprietary Lease into a new, too-small, safe deposit box. That was February 1988.

At our first shareholders’ meeting (per A. Stevenson, we established who would rule and given the size of the co-op, all of us were going to rule), I, the elected Secretary-Treasurer, volunteered to manage the building. My communal fervor proved immensely useful, since I became intimate with every convolution of the boiler beast, every corner of the building, even the darkest reaches of the basement utility rooms where each summer water bugs held their annual high-spirited convention.

And, still without reading the Proprietary Lease, I learned by experiential process how co-op corporations functioned.

As manager I found a crisp accountant who taught me about co-op finances, reserve funds and capital assessments; I found a contractor, a window guy, a low-water toilet replacement plumber, a superintendent. I installed a functional intercom and big mailboxes to replace the old small ones torn from their hinges by the fat red herring, bought new light fixtures, a hot water heater, had the stairs repaired and carpeted and everything painted.

Immediately thereafter, the building’s infrastructure fell apart. I got really busy finding out about main water lines and amperage boxes and boiler flanges and back flow valves. Then I had to talk everybody into those aforementioned capital assessments.

That’s how I learned…

The Four Laws of Co-op

First law: Just after you become a co-op, you make all sorts of pleasing superficial improvements.  Then…
Second law: The building systems fall apart.  But…
Third law: Calm yourself.  Because…
Fourth law: As long as the building’s still standing, everything can be fixed.

Carve the above into your granite countertops.


  • The Four Laws of Co-op (see above).
  • Become familiar with your ugly basement.
  • Find a good accountant: call and interview three and choose one.
  • Find good service people: call and interview three and choose one.

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