Real estate in New York City can be difficult to navigate especially when determining whether to buy a co-op or a condominium. Many people prefer to buy condos, even though they cost more, because there is no co-op board telling you what you can and cannot do. However, a co-op board has the power to evict a resident who is causing trouble.
Condos do not have this power of eviction. Co-ops do because buyers sign a proprietary lease, which creates a landlord-tenant relationship between the co-op and its residents. In the lease, it states an owner may be kicked out for “objectionable” behavior by a vote of the board and/or the other owners.
In 2002, there was a court case, 40 West 67th Street v. Pullman, which granted the power to cancel the lease of a terrible neighbor. Over the years, there have been many attempts to “Pullmanize” annoying neighbors. However, the courts make it clear that there is a right way and a wrong way to evict a horrible neighbor. The courts will look at Pullman cases to determine if the board followed procedural requirements for the lease termination and that the owner being evicted had ample opportunities to be heard.
Here are 8 steps to follow if your co-op board wants to evict a noxious neighbor.
- Check your proprietary lease for a "Pullman" clause - This clause would be in the termination section of the lease. In most standard-form proprietary leases, read paragraph 31(f) which states in part: …upon affirmative vote of 2/3s of the Board, because of objectionable conduct on part of the Lessee, repeated after written notice from Lessor, the tenancy of the Lessee is undesirable…
- Determine whether all shareholders need to vote - Read the clause to confirm because it could state a vote of shareholders, a vote of the board or a vote from both.
- Chance to rectify the behavior - Most times, the board needs to give written notice of the misconduct and a chance to remedy the behavior. A board can only evict if the owner continues the misconduct after written notice.
- Create a timeline, gather the notices sent to the lessee and review the evidence - Once there is sufficient evidence; it makes it easier for the court to determine the board has the best interests of the building at heart instead of a vendetta against the lessee.
- Properly hold a meeting - Give enough notice (this is in the co-op’s bylaws), hold the correct type of meeting (regular or special. A Pullman case needs to be a special meeting), and state the purpose of the meeting (to consider and vote upon the termination of the proprietary lease of the lessee, recover possession of the apartment and to cancel the stock certificate).
- Bring a stenographer - Be sure to document the meeting which documents the fact the lessee has not been deprived of his or her due process rights. The specific charges need to be reviewed and the lessee should be given the opportunity to speak to comment on or rebut the charges.
- Serve a termination notice - This notice must follow the rules for giving notice to the lessee under the terms of the lease. It should state that the board voted to terminate in accordance with the lease and it should be specific with dates, times, location and nature of the incidents constituting the objectionable conduct. This notice must be delivered in the exact way stated in the co-op’s proprietary lease and needs to give at least the minimum days required in the lease before the termination is effective.
- Head to court - The court will determine if the board has met the “heightened vigilance” requirement set by the Pullman decision. If the board acted properly, then the court will defer to the vote of the board and allow the eviction of the lessee.
Remember to keep in mind, that not all Pullman cases are successful. By following the above steps, you can minimize the chance that the court will dismiss the case based on a technicality. Bringing a Pullman action takes a lot of work. If the board handles the case properly and carefully, its efforts to remove a lessee can often result in a favorable result. Following these steps correctly, will be well worth the saved time, money and peace of mind.