But in co-ops and condos, some of the fiercest vitriol never leaves the building--particularly right now around election time, when some among the old guard are accused of misdeeds ranging from sloth to abuse of power to plain old incompetence.
If your name is j'accuse and you are not entirely sure of your facts, you may be relieved to know that New York libel law is on your side. Conversely, if you are a board member under attack, there's not a whole lot you can do lawsuit-wise to make it stop.
“The public policy of the state of New York is to encourage open and robust debate about matters of public concern, or matters of concern to a particular group of people, including co-op and condo communities,” says real esate lawyer Aaron Shmulewitz.
“If the false statement relates to a matter of concern to the community and relates to the victim’s duties," he explains, "you are only liable if proven that you made the statement knowing that it was false or not caring whether it was true or false.”
In other words, whether you’re running for election this spring or just mouthing off at the annual meeting, go ahead and accuse the board president of siphoning off half a million dollars in kickbacks if you have any sort of basis to do so. Just don’t call him/her a hooker, rapist or child molester while you're at it.
“So long as the statement relates to the board member’s duties, he or she would, unfortunately, have to prove you knew it was false or that you didn’t care whether it was true or false, which is almost impossible to prove,” says Shmulewitz.
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