Case Notes in

Liability of Directors

First published: Mar 2024
The Damage From Lead

TAKEAWAY Particularly in buildings built prior to 1960, owners have an affirmative statutory duty to prevent or abate lead poisoning of children 7 years of age or younger. Boards cannot discriminate in renting to such applicants. Boards are well-advised to vigilantly be aware of who is occupying the premises. They cannot rely upon indemnification by the occupants or the representation that there are no children residing there. It is also important to train and require managing agents, doormen, lobby staff and other staff members to report the activity of tenants, guests, visitors and contractors that may be conducting improper activities and occupations in the building. The owners’ and managing agents’ notice of such activities, both licit and illicit, may be imputed with knowing and permitting such activities. They may be liable for the consequences, civilly and possibly criminally.

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First published: Jan 2024
Storm in Progress

Takeaway This case illustrates the “storm-in-progress” doctrine where a property owner is “not required to provide a constant, ongoing remedy for an alleged slippery condition caused by moisture tracked indoors during a storm,” but it must take “reasonable measures to remedy a hazardous condition.” As we head into winter and possible snow accumulation (even in the face of climate change) boards must make sure that building staff takes all reasonable affirmative steps to maintain the building, including assigning staff to cover the public areas with mats, continually mop up any moisture on the floor, put wet-floor notices in affected areas, assign someone to continually monitor the affected areas, and keep written assignment and progress notes in the logbooks. I would add: Assign staff to offer to assist disabled and elderly persons to traverse areas of possible danger.

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First published: Mar 2019
345 East 50th Street LLC vs. The Board of Managers of M at Beekman Condominium

Board members are permitted to – and should be permitted to – operate their buildings as they see fit. They do, however, have obligations to all unit-owners (or shareholders in a co-op), including one to make repairs to the envelope of the building when required. While the board members did not act improperly, the court noted that, when Brown’s application for the roof deck work was submitted, the board could have let her know that a roof replacement was being considered. While failing to notify her may have been irresponsible, it was not actionable. The lesson for unit-owners is that when they are about to perform renovations of the type discussed here, they may want to ask the board if it is considering repairs that would affect the renovation. Unit-owners may even want to read the board minutes. That may seem like an unnecessary burden, but it also is a simple enough way to avoid situations like this one.

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First published: May 2017
Cohen v. CASSM Realty Corp.

There is apparently bad blood between these parties; they have been in litigation for years. This particular decision is important largely because the parties’ claims and defenses cover a lot of legal ground. One issue that also came up in the case was whether Cohen – because of the board’s failure to maintain and repair the building’s roof and roof beams, making it impossible to live in her top-floor apartment – was entitled to an abatement of maintenance and the reasonable cost of working/living elsewhere. She had sued O’Neill and another board member, Thanos Vassilakis, and the court said she was not entitled to the abatement and reimbursement. It said that individual board members would not be liable, as individuals, for claims concerning actions taken in their capacities as members of the board. Although the court did not order injunctive relief at this interim stage in the litigation, the court left the issue open for trial, so that the shareholder who is not an artist may indeed be required to sell his apartment.

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First published: Feb 2010
Ewen v. Maccherone

One of the issues which all condominiums (and cooperatives) face is whether to become involved in what is essentially a dispute between neighbors, whether it concerns smoke, other odors, decoration of a shared common space or noise complaints. The decision makes it clear that a unit-owner has the right to enforce a condominium’s bylaws and rules and regulations as against another unit-owner, even if the condominium (or its board of managers) is not a party to the action. The court did not discuss whether the plaintiffs had, prior to the action, complained to the board or the defendants, or whether anyone demanded that the sponsor correct what were apparently construction and design defects. Although we can anticipate that the defendants will seek to name the sponsor and possibly the board in a third-party action, this ruling stands for the proposition that a unit-owner can seek relief against another unit-owner directly without naming the board as a party. The court does not analyze the issue; however, the decision is clear that the condominium’s bylaws and rules and regulations form a contract not only between the condominium and its unit-owners, but also forms a contract between each unit-owner. Finally, the court confirmed that unit-owners may have causes of action for negligence and nuisance, independent of any claims concerning a violation of the condominium’s governing documents.

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First published: Oct 2008
Matter of Schwarz v. Dorchester Apt. Corp.

This case serves as a reminder that, except for decisions specifically reserved to the shareholders, it is a board’s right and obligation to make decisions for the best interests of all of the co-op’s shareholders. This is consistent with Business Corporation Law Section 701, which prescribes that “the business of a corporation shall be managed under the direction of its board of directors.” The board’s power is broad, but it does not go unchecked. Here, the decision to limit parking spaces to one per apartment was made by the petitioners, within its authority, in good faith, and in the legitimate interests of the cooperative pursuant to the Business Judgment Rule. However, the decision to retroactively charge increased fees to the petitioners was not and thus the court annulled that decision. The case also reminds us that being successful in a lawsuit does not necessarily allow the prevailing party to obtain attorneys’ fees from the other side. There must be a statute or a written agreement (typically a proprietary lease, or in condominiums, the bylaws) that allows fees to be awarded to the successful party. In this case, the co-op conceded, by its own letter, that plaintiffs had not breached the proprietary lease. Without such a breach, no fees could be awarded.

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First published: Dec 2007
Gunning vs. Regina Metropolitan Co. LLC

Although this case involved a rental building, the issue here, storage of property by a landlord, is equally applicable whether the building is a co-op or a condominium. The entity in whose care the property was left has some responsibility for its return. Even when the standard of care for a gratuitous bailment is relaxed to gross negligence, there may still be liability for lost property. Co-op and condo boards should insure some measure of security and control over goods stored by building occupants outside over their units and should insure that any disposition of stored property is properly documented and recorded to protect the landlord from later claims.

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First published: Jun 2005
Beck v. J.J.A. Holding Corp.

This case suggests that a landlord must have actual knowledge and an opportunity to cure a mold condition before it has liability to a tenant claiming illness from mold. As this is still an emerging legal issue, further cases on the extent of a landlord’s liability for a mold condition can be expected.

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First published: Jun 2005
Litwack v. Plaza Realty Investors

The court here refused to dismiss the mold illness claim against the landlord before further evidence was introduced on the causal connection between the mold condition and the illness. The issue was one of the landlord’s knowledge of the mold condition. The court was not prepared to dismiss the tenant’s claim because the court believed that persistent water leaks might result in a landlord’s having constructive notice of a mold condition.

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