Ask an Expert: Fighting a board over windows

My co-op board is considering replacing all the windows in our building, a 36-story high-rise in Midtown, at a cost of about $10 million. I recently spent $50,000 replacing my own apartment windows–as have several of my neighbors–so we will essentially be paying for everyone else’s windows. Can we stop them from going ahead? Or at least opt out?

Your co-op board has the authority to go ahead with their, ahem, window shopping, and they’re under no obligation to exempt you from the project. However, if they save on the expense of replacing your windows, they may very well offer you and your neighbors a credit, our experts say.

One thing to keep in mind: if the board is putting in a different kind of window or if your replacement happened long enough ago that leaving your windows as is would prevent the building from receiving a tax break for capital improvements, called a J-51 abatement, you may be forced to go ahead with the project, says Roberta Axelrod, a real estate broker and asset manager at Time Equities, who sits on numerous co-op boards as a sponsor’s representative.

“I would start by discussing the matter with the board, both so that they are aware of your concerns in the hope that they can accommodate you and so that they can explain why they are not,” she adds. 

Can you prevent the project altogether? Not likely, says real estate attorney Jeffrey Reich of Wolf Haldenstein Adler Freeman & Herz, “unless the shareholder could muster enough support to vote out the existing board and vote in one that is more sympathetic to the writer’s position.”

Michelle Maratto Itkowitz, a real estate attorney with Itkowitz PLLC and a legal expert for LandlordsNY, notes that the question raises a host of other questions, “like how did you get permission to replace your windows when many co-ops will not allow that? It also requires a peek at their particular offering plan and proprietary lease.”

If your board goes ahead, you may want to angle the window sills or add other measures to prevent birds from nesting there, notes pest control expert Gil Bloom of Standard Pest Management. “This is a lot cheaper done when they are installing the windows as opposed to doing it afterwards should the need arise,” he says.

Leigh Kamping-Carder is a senior editor at BrickUnderground.com, the online survival guide to finding a NYC apartment and living happily ever after. To see more expert answers or to ask a real estate question, click here.