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30 Dec 2016

In addition to legislation tightening the noose around illegal Airbnb operators in New York, the city has also started taking action.

On December 7, the city raided a warehouse at 502 Morgan Avenue in Greenpoint that operated as a concert venue and an illegal Airbnb rental operation. For $30/night, you were offered a bed in one of five windowless bedrooms with an illegally installed gas line.

The raid came a short five days after the Oakland, California warehouse fire that killed thirty-six people. Similar to the Morgan Avenue warehouse, the Oakland building doubled as an artist living and performance space. Zack Wheeler, a Seattle transplant and the Morgan Avenue property’s operator, was ordered to vacate the building. No additional fines or charges have been imposed. A phone number for the limited liability company that owns the Greenpoint property has been disconnected, and Zack Wheeler has declined to comment.

Melissa Grace, a spokesperson for the city told the New York Post that the city is “relieved no one was hurt,” and further urged New Yorkers and visitors to “be aware of dangers posed by illegal housing and performance spaces – and report them to 311 no matter where in the city they occur.”

23 Dec 2016

Almost everyone has seen National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, and while we laughed when Uncle Lewis burned down the tree, we wouldn’t be laughing were this to happen in real life. In addition to keeping lit cigars (and Uncle Lewis) away from your tree, there are some other things you can do to minimize the chances of a holiday gone up in smoke.

First, check your building’s by-laws and house rules, as they may have restrictions on the type of tree you can bring in,  or restrictions on voltage for certain decorations.  Second, when bringing a tree in or taking it out of your apartment, be mindful of its size and potential needles and water spills. If your building has a freight elevator, make use of it.  In addition, alert your building’s staff that you’ll be carting your majestic pine through the halls so that they can take protective measures in advance. Staff may also be able to assist you with properly wrapping and disposing of your tree, or at least advise you how to do so yourself. Third, when it comes to decorating your tree, keep open flames away from it, particularly candles.  Fourth, make sure that you have confirmed, in advance, the number of light strands you can connect to each other.

Last but not least, be mindful and do not leave your decorations burning when you go to sleep or leave the house. Although timers are fantastic and efficient devices, if you plan to be out of the house or out of town, make sure your decoration timers are set to off until you return – or better yet – just turn the whole system off. Ensure that your smoke detector has fresh batteries and is operational, and that all power strips and extension cords are Underwriters Laboratory (UL) certified.  Wishing you and yours a peaceful and hazard-free Holiday Season.

16 Dec 2016
Big Brother is Watching You…But Does Your Building Have a Legal Right to Install a Surveillance System?

“Always the eyes watching you and the voice enveloping you. Asleep or awake, working or eating, indoors or out of doors, in the bath or in bed—no escape. Nothing was your own except the few cubic centimeters inside your skull.” (Orwell, 1984).

George Orwell’s 1984 novel closely mirrors today’s reality as surveillance cameras are now increasingly in our residential buildings. Most commonly, camera surveillance in co-ops and condos is utilized to ensure residents’ safety by recording twenty-four hour footage in public spaces (i.e. lobby, hallways, elevators, basements). Yet, these cameras serve other functions in addition to deterring crime.  They also help your building enforce its rules regarding guests, (which is especially helpful during the holidays, where residents invite a myriad of guests for holiday parties), and to facilitate the overall management of the building. For example, if your co-op or condo undergoes construction, it is useful to have cameras recording to monitor workers entering and exiting the building, and to record any property damage.

Traditionally, buildings would employ guards to sift through lengthy surveillance tapes. Today in the modern age of technology, building surveillance records footage digitally, making it easier to pinpoint events and protect residents and the property. These cameras are implemented by boards to maintain a safe environment, yet as we have previously addressed, some residents remain skeptical of their building’s security systems and have gone as far to sue the boards for invasion of privacy. However, unlike in George Orwell’s novel, and with certain notable exceptions (like the neighbor that installs cameras that look directly into your apartment), these cameras are not installed for the purpose of spying on residents, but instead to maintain a level of safety. As Paul Gottsegen, the president of the Halstead Management Company, has stated: “It’s more important to know who is going into the billiard room than what they are doing on the billiard table.”

All of their advantages aside, the question remains as to whether co-ops and condos have the legal right to install surveillance systems. Under the business judgment rule, it is permissible for the board of co-ops and condos to do what they deem necessary to protect residents and the property. Therefore, if camera surveillance is believed to be essential by the board to provide adequate safety for residents, than it is permitted in public areas. Advice for board members:

  • Paper it: Implement written policy measures on security and surveillance;
  • Notify: Disclose these measures with all residents;
  • Keep it legal: Do not use eavesdropping devices in order to comply with NY Penal law §§ 250.00, 250.05.

If you believe your board is going too far down the Big Brother hole, you can always challenge their decisions through litigation, but a less expensive option would be to elect a new board that reflects the building’s values.

09 Dec 2016

It’s that time of year again.  As we enter the final stretch of the year, in addition to holiday gifts for loved ones and friends, apartment dwellers also have to consider holiday tips for their building staff.  Are you required to tip?  Usually not, but it’s an overwhelmingly observed custom and if you do not, in most buildings you will be in the minority.

How much do you tip?  As the idea is to reward service, holiday tipping does not correspond with the size of your apartment or the amount of your rent.  Quite a few buildings will let you know suggested tip amounts and some buildings pool tips together.   If you do not live in one of those buildings, there’s a fairly wide range of “common” tips depending on the type of building that you live in and the number of staff.  Tips for building superintendents typically are around $75 and up and can go as high as $500.  The range for a doorman/concierge is from $25-150 and can go as high as $1000.  For building porters and handymen, the range is from $20-$30 but can go as high as $75.  Finally, garage attendants range from $25-$75 but can go as high as $100. In most instances, the more staff your building has, the lower the average tip per staff member.

When do you tip?  The best time is between Thanksgiving and Christmas, but building staff receive tips from December through January.  When in doubt, ask your neighbors or the members of the building’s board.

02 Dec 2016
Residential Buildings: Beware of Workplace Accidents

When a worker gets injured while on the job, common sense and the law both dictate that the employer will, more often than not, be at least partially liable. New York Labor Law however, also extends this liability to the owners and managing agents of buildings where workers are injured.

Pursuant to section 200 of the New York Labor Law, building owners and managers are obligated to provide a safe working environment for workers.  Section 241(6) requires that areas in which work is being performed “shall be so constructed…. equipped…operated and conducted as to provide reasonable and adequate protection and safety to the persons employed or frequenting such places.”  Finally, section 240(1) states that owners, contractors and managers are liable for gravity-related accidents that happen at the building.  Not preparing for workplace accidents and running afoul of these statutes could mean millions of dollars in liability.

What can your building do to protect itself?

Know who you are working with.  Be sure that all contractors you deal with are properly licensed, insured, and experienced in each specific area of work.  Be sure to ask for copies of their primary liability and umbrella insurance policies.  If your contractor uses subcontractors (an extremely common occurrence), have your contractor review their vetting process for subs and verify that each subcontractor is properly insured.  Additionally, do a little due diligence of your own and check to see if each contractor/subcontractor has a history with OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) as well as a history of litigation.

Read the fine print.  As with anything, the building owner’s contract with each general contractor or subcontractor should be in writing.  The contract should include an indemnification clause – the contractor/subcontractor should agree to indemnify and hold harmless the building owners and managing agents from any liability and damages stemming from the contractors’ negligence – and an insurance procurement clause.  They should also confirm that any agreements they enter into ensure their responsibility for workplace safety.  To the extent possible, your contractor/subcontractor should also add the building owners and managing agents as additional insureds to their liability insurance policies, which should already be at least $1 million for a primary commercial general liability policy and $5 million for an umbrella policy.

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