Q. I am a co-op board member looking for some thoughts about how to improve the board interview process and get at more useful information.
Currently, we often ask how the person came to decide on our building, or what they particularly liked about it, or whether they have any questions. But we thought there might be some additional questions that could become more or less standard with us, as benchmarks, such as asking if any others will be living in the apartment when the shareholders aren’t actually in residence.
Can you suggest some standard questions that would apply to most interviewees?
A. According to BrickTank expert and managing agent Lynn Whiting, the first thing to be clear about is what not to ask.
Your board may be found guilty of violating federal, state, and/or local laws against discrimination if you inquire into a buyer’s occupation, lawful source of income, marital status, race, color, religion, national origin, alienage, citizenship, gender, sexual orientation, military status or disability.
“Asking who will be watching the applicants’ children when the shareholders are at work may also be problematic,” says real estate lawyer C. Jaye Berger, offering an example of how what might seem like an innocent question can come back and bite you in the event of a turndown. “Someone may interpret this as the board not liking children. I defended a board in such a lawsuit.”
Our experts suggest adding the following questions to your repertoire:
- Will this be your primary residence?
- Who will be residing in the apartment with you?
- What do you do for recreation?
- Do you play musical instruments such as drums, piano, guitar, saxophone, trumpet etc? Will you be playing them in the apartment?
- Do you have any pets or do you plan on getting one in the future?
- Do you entertain often or have frequent visitors?
- Do you plan on doing any renovations? If so, what?
- Have you served on a board before and would you be interested in serving?
- Are you familiar with the building’s rules? (e.g., no pets, no loud music past 11 pm, no smoking in any common areas, subletting restrictions, financing limitations etc)
- Do you have any firearm or other types of weapons that will be kept in the apartment?
In addition, real estate lawyer, board member and BrickTank expert Steven Sladkus suggests asking whether your prospective neighbor has a criminal record or has ever sued or been sued by a board. Do not assume this is covered in your building’s board application—it varies by managing agent, says Sladkus.
Once you draw up your script, get your lawyer to look it over. If a rejected applicant sues, says Berger, “the ‘context’ in which the question is asked can make all the difference.”
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