Every co-op dweller knows that if you stop paying your maintenance fees, you risk eviction, end of story. After a recent court decision, though, it might not be that simple: a Manhattan judge just ruled against an Upper East Side co-op's attempt to evict shareholders who hadn't paid the entirety of their monthly fees, citing the co-op's failure to explain how the charges had been calculated in the first place.
It seems like a surprising decision, but then, the couple wasn't exactly squatting: Frieda and Howard Dropkin had "only" paid $90,000 of $103,000 worth of maintenance payments since 2012, as the New York Law Journal first reported, and were also behind on electric bills they were required by their proprietary lease to pay.
Judge Jack Stoller ruled that in order to evict, the co-op would have needed to prove "not only the existence of a contract, but the terms of a contract ... and the specific facts entitling it to relief." In other words, the methods by which building maintenance charges were calculated, as well as each shareholder's exact obligation.
The judge also declined to rule against the Dropkins regarding the unpaid electric bills, noting that it wouldn't be possible to calculate them until their specific rent burden was determined.
There's a lot of legalese to wade through, but this could potentially be an interesting precedent for co-op boards and shareholders alike: while the ruling doesn't mean we can all start suddenly slacking off on payments, it does give shareholders a little extra leverage to push back against vague charges (or worse, an eviction attempt). Not a bad thing to have in your back pocket the next time you come to blows with your board.
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