An insider's guide to running a succesful Tenants Association

By Marjorie Cohen  |
March 1, 2012 - 11:09AM

Yesterday, we told you the story of one Tenant Association's David and Goliath-style battle against a developer who tried to build a condo building on top of their pre-war rental building. Now, here are some tips on starting your own Tenants Association, from a true insider (who helped spearhead the battle).

If you want to organize  a TA, begin by checking out guidelines for getting started at TenantNet; Tenants and Neighbors and Metropolitan Council on HousingRemember that the most important thing to establish from the beginning is  -- what are your neighbors' priorities?

  • Communication is key. From the beginning, set up a smooth and steady line of communication from the TA Board to the tenants and back. We set up a Google group and asked neighbors to give us their e-mail addresses.  All of our files are on Google docs, accessible to all who sign up. A website would be great—we don't have one yet--but for inspiration, take a look at Central Park Garden's terrific TA site.
  • Don't leave anyone out of the process. Remember those who do not have computers: We set up a system of Floor Captains who are charged with printing out anything that is sent out via our e-mail list and slipping it under the doors of anyone without an e-mail address.
  • Sort fact from rumor. Connect with knowledgeable advisers, and be selective about what internet sources you quote and pass on to tenants. Depending on the problems you are facing, consider getting advice from engineers, lawyers, elected officials, architects. Invite experts to meetings. You can't have all the answers but  you can bring in someone who does. Making decisions based on fear combined with misinformation will doom a TA. 
  • Stick to the mission. Write one down and blow it up to poster size and put it up at every single meeting. When someone goes off-track—like complaining about a leak in their bathroom--point to the mission and move on.
  • Keep agendas specific. Never have a meeting without an agenda. Democracy can get unruly.
  • Have fun. Always leave time in a meeting to have refreshments and shmooze. Don't just meet when there's a problem—building community when things are going well will pay off when the inevitable crisis comes along. 
  • Connect with elected officials.To find out who represents you on the city council, state assembly, etc., just enter your address here
  • Celebrate your victories and be generous with your “thank yous." Everyone wants to be appreciated so be liberal with your public thank yous—it will encourage more people to join the effort, and the broadest possible participation is what a TA is all about.


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Marjorie Cohen

Contributing writer

Marjorie Cohen is a New York City-based freelance journalist, editor and author of over seven non-fiction books. Her real estate reporting has appeared in amNewYork, Investopedia, and The West Side Rag. Since moving to New York five decades ago for graduate school at the Teachers College of Columbia University, Marjorie has lived on the Upper West Side, with a brief detour to West 15th Street when she got six months free rent in a new building.

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