The Westchester County executive is set to sign a measure that will create new rules to govern the purchase and sale of co-op apartments. The idea is to streamline the process and help combat discrimination.
The Westchester County Board of Legislators passed the bipartisan measure that is designed to speed up the process for co-op buyers and sellers. Democratic Legislator Catherine Borgia is a sponsor.
“There’s a time frame now for people to accept the application as complete and to give a definitive yes or no answer,” Borgia says. “And that’s a huge change because a lot of co-op board don’t act in a timely manner, and that hangs up both sides of the transaction.”
Under the new legislation that passed 13 to 4, the boards of cooperatives that approve the sale of individual units will have 15 days to tell buyers whether their applications for purchase are complete. Once an application is deemed complete, boards will have 60 days to accept or reject the application. Another part of the measure addresses discrimination concerns.
“There’s a lot of other ways to test other parts of the housing market to see if there’s discriminatory practices, implicit or overt, but there really isn’t a way to test the co-op market,” Borgia says. “So the good compromise that we came to, which I think was really pretty satisfactory, was that co-op denials would go to the Human Rights Commission, just a notification.”
She says the Board of Legislators can request the data from the Human Rights Commission. And the Commission would not receive the reasons for denial. Rather, the commission would receive a notice of denial and may look into the reason if it deems necessary. Democratic County Executive George Latimer says such a review process is needed.
“Most of the people that are involved in this process are people of good will but, for those that are bad actors in the game, then they know now that they’re going to have some accountability, and I think that’s a good thing all around,” Latimer says. “So I’m very pleased to sign it into law my first opportunity. And I think it’s one more example of some of the good progressive things that we’ve done in Westchester County this year.”
He says the bill restores requirements of the Westchester County Housing Disclosure Law. Latimer praises legislators for listening to myriad views.
“They listened to both the co-op owners and the co-op boards as well as the individuals who are advocating for social justice, and I think they’ve come up with a good plan,” Latimer says.
Republican Legislator David Tubiolo, who represents parts of Mount Vernon and Yonkers, voted in favor of the measure, saying there was compromise across the aisle on both numbers of days allowed for application completions and decisions and doing away with automatically sending the reason for a denial directly to the Human Rights Commission. Borgia, whose district includes Briarcliff Manor, Croton-on-Hudson, Ossining and parts of Cortlandt and Peekskill, talks about opposition in her area.
“So the interesting thing was that my constituency back in my district ran about 3 to 1 in favor. And even people who called me to say they didn’t like that law, once I explained it to them, they were like, oh, yeah, that seems reasonable,” says Borgia. “So there wasn’t, there wasn’t a lot of, except from co-op board members who say it’s going to make their job more onerous and potentially more costly if there’s more lawsuits, there wasn’t really a lot of opposition to co-op shareholders or certainly from realtors or people trying to purchase co-ops.”
One of Borgia’s Democratic colleagues, Legislator Terry Clements, voted no. She says co-op residents in her district that includes Pelham, Pelham Manor and part of New Rochelle expressed concern that the measure could have a financial impact on co-op shareholders, possibly raising shareholder fees and increasing insurance costs for co-op boards. Latimer disagrees.
“I don’t happen to agree with the baseline argument and I don’t think this bill does that. When you have a time frame by which you have to make a decision, you just make the decision in that time frame. You don’t spend any extra money as long as you can recognize you now have a clock ticking. And the clock isn’t, it’s not a one-week, two-week clock. You’ve got 60 days after the application is finalized so I think that’s fine,” says Latimer. “And if you haven’t been involved in any kind of discrimination, you have nothing to fear.”
Republican Minority Leader John Testa, whose district includes portions of Cortlandt, Peekskill and Yorktown, calls the measure a solution looking for a problem. Speaking the night of the vote, Testa contends co-op boards should take the time they need with applications.
“What’s going to happen now, as is was explained to me by co-op boards that I talked to, officers, that they’re just going to deny the application at their earliest possible convenience, to follow the law, because they’re going to follow this new law, but it’s going to hurt more applicants than help because they’re going to be not able to take the time, they’re going to be concerned about being accused of things that are not happening,” Testa said. “And more applicants and more homeowners are going to be denied.”
He also believes that any discrimination concerns can be brought along current avenues, by going directly to the Human Rights Commission. Latimer addresses other opposition.
“This bill was negotiated with the input of the Builders Institute, which also has management over the co-op industry in Westchester County, and they signed off on these provisions,” Latimer says. “So I think the individual reactions of individuals are always to be expected in a small “d” democracy, but the overall attitude is that this is a workable plan. And I think we’ll find that once we’re under way, there won’t be additional costs to it. It’s a fear that people may have and they express it at this point in time but a year down the road when we see how it’s implemented, I don’t think there’ll be any problems at all.”
Borgia says she reintroduced the measure that was originally sponsored by former Legislator Lois Bronz a few decades ago. Bronz, who was the first African American and first woman elected chair of the Westchester County legislature, died in February.