The precarious life of a co-op board president

1155 Park Avenue
1155 Park Avenue

With great power comes great responsibility. And in the case of a New York City co-op board president, it also comes with a healthy dose of abuse, threats and ego clashes, the New York Times reported.

Consider the case of Stephen Chesnoff, former board president at the 600-unit Plaza 400 co-op at 400 East 56th Street. A shareholder’s furious girlfriend once banged on his apartment door and screamed, “I’m going to kill you!” he told the Times. 

“Everyone seems to know where you live,” he added.

Terri Sasanow, a city law department attorney who served a 12-year stint as co-op board president at 1 Gracie Terrace, told the Times that conflicts with residents would flare up over the most trivial things, such as building decorations.

“There was one lady who sat in the front row at every meeting and complained about the flowers; I thought it was nice that we even had fresh flowers,” Sasanow said. “To a certain extent it can be a thankless task.”

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Some board presidents try to manipulate the buildings’ policies for personal gain, creating more troubling situations, Aaron Shmulewitz, the head of the co-op/condo practice at Belkin Burden Wenig & Goldman, told the Times.

“Unfortunately,” he said, “some board presidents allow the position to go to their heads and behave as if they’ve acquired the rights of a medieval European monarch.”

The president of an Upper East Side co-op once asked Shmulewitz to write a letter of complaint to his neighbors for too-fervent lovemaking, he told the Times.

“You don’t go to law school to write letters like that, but if the president of the board you work for asks you to do it, if it’s not unethical, you do it.”

New York State has no official code of conduct for co-op and condo boards, he added. [NYT] –Hiten Samtani