Woman sues co-op board over washer-dryer

You read the above title and you are thinking, “A co-op apartment with a washer-dryer?!? Who’s that lucky (or wealthy) in NYC?”

(Which reminds me of perhaps an urban legend not concerning alligators in the subway system: many years ago, when there were still a few rent controlled apartments in NYC, a rumor abounded that people (over)eager to get into a rent controlled situation read the obit column in the Times to see who died and would immediately race over to the building and cheerfully inquire of the super whether the apartment was available. I heard at least one story of someone showing up at the actual apartment door and asking a mourning family member about the availability.)

But I digress.

In “She sues for a load: wash-dryer co-op fight,” Barbara Ross in the Daily News tells us that

 A Greenwich Village woman says her building’s co-op board is making her replace her old washer and dryer with a new unit that costs three times as much.

Helen Siller, a retired teacher, says in papers filed in Manhattan Supreme Court that her old appliance is broken, and the only types she’s allowed to purchase will cause her thousands of dollar in renovations and countless headaches.

Ms. Siller’s husband is a lawyer. He should know better. I predict they will lose this lawsuit. And what suing will cost them would more than pay for the “Miele, Bosch or Asko self-venting units the board now requires owners to buy.”

If this were a question (“can the board do this?”) to a lawyer published in the Cooperator, or in the New York Times Real Estate Q&A column, the answer would begin, “You have to read your proprietary lease and by-laws to see the rules and laws governing your co-op.” And if, as Ross states, “…the co-op board recently adopted rules that require owners to buy only self-venting units…” if those rules were properly proposed, written and voted on (and the rules for changing rules are also in the prop lease!), the Sillers are out of luck.

How do I know this? Because, since my own co-op lawsuit invokes a great number of proprietary lease laws and rules, I have read the prop lease — which is in essence the constitution of a particular co-op, which must itself adhere to the state laws governing co-ops — a hundred times and know it very, very well.

The Sillers’ very posh Fifth Avenue co-op building (there’s a panoramic pictures of it in the Daily News link) apparently permits washer-dryer combos in apartments. My prop lease — governing an old, small building — effectively does not, unless they were installed before the building became a co-op, which they were not. Nor can they be installed now because “If, in the Lessor’s [co-op] sole judgment, any of the Lessee’s [shareholder/apartment owner] equipment or appliances shall result in damage to the Building or poor quality or interruption of service to other portions of the Building, or overloading of, or damage to facilities maintained by the Lessor for the supplying of water, gas, electricity… the Lessee shall promptly, on notice from the Lessor, remedy the condition…” That is, remove the appliance(s).

Moreover, the rules that govern what co-op boards can or can’t do are all subsumed under the good faith business judgment rule: co-op boards owe their duty of loyalty to the cooperative, and must act for the benefit of the shareholders collectively. Board members can’t act with self interest, making decisions favoring themselves individually over non-board-member shareholder. They can’t treat shareholders unequally.

In my building, this means that no one can install a washer-dryer for his exclusive use and benefit. If, as in a number of buildings, the building maintains a laundry room (usually with coin-operated appliances), that room must be available to all residents and shareholders.

And, as my prop lease makes clear, some appliances can overload a small building’s systems. Moreover, there is one single water meter for most buildings; the water bills go to the co-op, not the individual using a water-consuming appliance, so the co-op, i.e., the shareholders, are paying for the extra water used by one apartment dweller.

The Sillers’ situation is more or less the reverse: the co-op permits washer-dryers but has the right to insist on, say, low-water-usage appliances, just as long as that rule applies equally to all shareholders and all board members.

If the Sillers’ co-op board said, gee only the Sillers (and other lowly mere shareholders) have to replace their old Maytag with expensive appliances but us board members are buying cheap shit from Home Depot, then the co-op board would be in the wrong.

So unless the Sillers can somehow prove that only they have been afflicted by this rule — and I’ve got to assume that no other shareholder is complaining about this, because other shareholders apparently have not joined the Sillers as plaintiffs — they are not going to win this lawsuit.

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