(Editor's note: This is the first of a series of first-person glimpses into life in a NYC co-op or condo building. Names and identifying details have been changed. If you have a story to share, drop us a line.)
A few years ago, my wife and I bought a 700-square-foot duplex in a 150-unit condo building on the Upper East Side. We found out pretty quickly that the super, Alek, was running the building like a Mafia don with the help of the board president.
Every morning Alek and the president, Mike, would have coffee across the street to decide who they were going to f--- up the a-- today.
Mike had been the board president forever and he and one other person were pretty much the only ones who ever saw the building’s books. There was never an open bidding process for work that had to be done in the building, like the “playroom” that cost tens of thousands but turned out to be nothing but paint and a few toys.
As far as Alek, he had his hand out for everything.
For instance, the HVAC repairman didn’t like to come around for one-off jobs because he said Alek asked for $20 every time he came into the building.
A neighbor who wanted work done in her apartment on Saturday against the building’s rules had to give Alek $200.
At one point, Alek, who was Albanian, decided he wanted to replace all the non-Albanian employees. A temporary porter, a union guy who wanted to stay on permanently, told me he had to give Alek an envelope with $5,000 to get secured.
But there was a lot more, besides the fact people who he did minor jobs for like changing a lock would sometimes find their stuff rummaged through.
Alek had a workshop, rent-free, in the sub-basement, and he ran a crew that did renovation on units in the building. He didn’t get the proper work permits from the board or the buildings department. And if you hired a different contractor, he and the board president would make things rough for you.
I didn’t like Alek—you get a vibe from certain people and you don’t want them in your life. So when we moved in, we hired someone else to do some non-structural stuff like painting, replacing the countertops and changing the windows.
Alek got the board to stop the job and I had to go to court to prove that my work was non-structural and I didn’t need an alteration agreement. I spent $17,000 in lawyers’ fees. I should add that my wife was suffering from terminal cancer, and time was of the essence so that she could enjoy what she had left.
Alek and Mike also teamed up to buy apartments, renovate and flip them. It seemed that part of how they did this was to force people on the brink to sell, by putting through assessments and raising common charges.
Alek bragged to employees (including our concierge, who according to workers in another building was a former mob enforcer) about having a $25,000 chandelier, a 5-series BMW, and Swiss bank accounts. A super with Swiss bank accounts.
My attorney suggested I talk to my neighbors to get them to overthrow the board and get rid of Alek. I tried. I told them if we don’t stand together we’ll hang separately.
The neighbors didn’t want to be bothered--they were in denial and didn’t want to get involved. It’s not a smaller building where people have similar values and homogeneity. This is a 150-unit building with very little face-to-face common space—strangers who come in and out and don’t have cause to meet. They paid their money, their apartment is fine and they’re too busy.
I guess people get the boards they deserve.
What eventually happened was that a couple doing a big renovation got fed up and sued the board. They spent several hundred thousand dollars. As part of the settlement Mike had to step down and Alek was made a “consultant” for special projects, which means he only came around to steal four months a year instead of year round.
After my wife died, I got out as soon as I could. I’m renting now, and I might buy again. But I would find out everything I could about the building first by talking to the neighbors.