How I became a plaintiff: Mistakes I made

The statute should be comprehensible.  It should not be written in Chinese anyway. It should be in passing English…so that common, human beings would understand what it meant… – Clarence Darrow, in Tennessee v. John Thomas Scopes, 1925.

Let me now face up to one vital mistake I made a long time ago, when my building went co-op.

I have been breezy, even jolly, about all the documents we signed and received at the February 1988 closing, and I’ve sneered openly at the uninviting appearance of the Proprietary Lease.

Instead of sniping at its homeliness, I should have read the whole damn thing, every section, paragraph, sub-paragraph. Because secreted in this fat document were the co-op rules and regulations, i.e., all the laws that had to be adhered to or could be broken by a shareholder, and all the possible remedies I had to mitigate, or even forestall, the breakage.

Yeah, it was and is a boring, miserably written legal compilation. Let me torture you with a sample taken from, oh, any old page I’ve opened at random (page 131, in fact):

Secured Party

(b) Notwithstanding the provisions of subparagraph (a) of this Paragraph 17 or any other provisions of this Lease to the contrary, the following provisions of this Paragraph shall govern and be binding.

(i) The Lessor agrees that is shall give to any holder of a security interest in the shares of the Lessor specified in the recitals of this Lease or mortgagee of this Lease who so requests (any such holder being hereinafter referred to as a “Secured Party”), a copy of any notice of default which the Lessor gives to the….

Enough. You see what I mean? Your eyes just sort of slide right off the page.

Nevertheless, I should have read it thoroughly. I mean, not only have I read the entire Declaration of Independence, United States Constitution and all our Amendments, I typed them into my computer when, back in November 2004, I re-wrote our Founding Documents in a valiant effort to re-invent America minus Red States.

But I didn’t read my Proprietary Lease when I signed it. It’s longer than the U.S. Constitution, yes, but is somewhat more pertinent to my day-to-day life.


  • Read every legal document you sign, every single paragraph, subparagraph, footnotes. Everything. Slowly, if necessary.
  • Anything you don’t understand, ask your lawyer to explain.
  • If your lawyer balks, force him or her to explain it.
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