Westchester Board of Legislators Approves Co-Op Transparency Bill

John Jordan | November 2018

Realtor Irene Guanill Elukowich testified before the County Board of Legislators recently in factor of the co-op transparency bill.

WHITE PLAINS—The Hudson Gateway Association of Realtors secured one of its more significant legislative victories in years on the evening of Nov. 19 when the Westchester County Board of Legislators overwhelmingly approved a compromise co-op transparency bill.

The bill will establish new rules to make the cooperative sales process faster for buyers and sellers and to help combat discrimination. The measure was approved by the Westchester County Board of Legislators by a 13-4 margin.

Westchester County Executive George Latimer said in a statement that he plans to “sign the bill immediately.”

The passage of the bill marks a major milestone for HGAR and its predecessor associations in what has been a more than two-decade long battle to bring reform to the cooperative purchase process. The New York State Association of Realtors will once again have passage of statewide co-op disclosure legislation as one of its top legislative priorities in the 2019 legislative session in Albany. Earlier this year, Rockland County passed a co-op reform bill that requires a co-op board to provide written notice to the applicant of its decision within 45 days of the receipt of a fully completed purchase application. If the co-op board fails to act on that application within the mandated 45-day period, the application will be deemed approved. Suffolk County passed a cooperative reform bill in 2009.

Under the new Westchester County legislation, cooperative boards of directors will have 15 days to notify buyers whether or not their applications for purchase are complete. Once an application is deemed complete, boards will have 60 days to accept or reject the application. If an application is rejected, the co-op board must send a notice of the rejection to the county’s Human Rights Commission, which has the power to investigate instances of discrimination under the county’s Fair Housing Law.

After considerable debate and input from HGAR and proposal opponent the Building and Realty Institute of Westchester & the Mid-Hudson Region and affiliates, the original bill was recently amended.

The original bill called for application receipt notification within 10 days and a notice of decision rendered by the board and received by the applicant within 45 days. The bill also mandated a co-op board disclose the reason for the rejection of a cooperative purchasers’ application. The compromise bill does not include that mandate.

“I am pleased that the County Board of Legislators voted to pass a bill that will rationalize the process by which co-op owners and buyers can transact their units in a timely fashion, and will reduce concerns over housing discrimination,” County Executive Latimer stated. “Under this new law, co-op boards will have a reasonable deadline of 15 days to either acknowledge a completed housing application, or inform the potential purchaser of any problems that may exist with their submission. Co-op boards will then have 60 days to either accept or reject the housing application. If an applicant is rejected, their rejection letter will be submitted to the Human Rights Commission for review.”

He added, “This bill restores the requirements of the Westchester County Housing Disclosure Law, and it is my plan to sign it immediately.”

HGAR officials, while noting that the bill did not include all of the reforms they originally sought, were in unison that the measure will improve the cooperative transaction process for consumers and Realtors.

HGAR President Barry Kramer said the co-op transparency bill is a “step in the right direction” to help remedy problems that currently exist in the co-op sales transaction process. He said that if County Executive Latimer signs the legislation into law, the benefit to the real estate industry and to consumers will be a quicker sales process.

“I believe it will make co-op boards think twice before they give a rejection because right now there is no accountability at all,” Kramer said.

“We have been advocating for co-op transparency legislation for more than two decades, so the vote by the Westchester County Board of Legislators advancing the bill to the County Executive is especially gratifying,” said HGAR Chief Executive Officer Richard Haggerty. “It’s our hope that County Executive Latimer will sign the bill in the very near future as he has expressed his support for this initiative in the past.”

Haggerty said the push to advance co-op transparency in Westchester County was a “team effort” led by HGAR President Kramer, Legislative Council Co-Chair Leah Caro and RPAC Co-Chair Dorothy Botsoe.

He also recognized Crystal Hawking Syska, Rey Hollingsworth Falu, Irene Guanill Elukowich, and all of the HGAR members who testified or attended committee meetings and public hearings, as well as HGAR’s Government Affairs Director Phillip Weiden, who Haggerty said “played point guard for this team effort.”

Weiden also stressed that the legislation is a major victory for Realtors and was the result of the normal give and take that occurs when crafting and advancing legislation.

“This bill is a significant step forward in the co-op transparency process. It will bring oversight from the county and speed up the sale process time line,” said HGAR Government Affairs Director Weiden. “I want to thank the main sponsors of the bill, legislators Catherine Borgia and Christopher Johnson who saw this bill through to the end. This is a significant victory and one HGAR should be proud of.”

Bill co-sponsors Christopher A. Johnson (D-Yonkers) and Catherine Borgia, (D-Cortlandt, Croton on Hudson, Ossining, Briarcliff Manor, Peekskill) also believe the bill will bring measurable improvement to the cooperative sales process.

“The process of buying and selling a co-op in Westchester County today isn’t timely, it isn’t transparent, and sometimes isn’t fair,” Johnson said. “This new measure, when it’s signed into law, will give buyers and sellers of co-ops a time frame they can count on, so their lives aren’t stalled waiting for and wondering when a board will act. It will also give the Human Rights Commission the information it needs to act when there’s a pattern of discrimination.”

Legislator Borgia added, “Although requiring co-ops to give buyers written reasons when they’ve been denied would have been great, the measure we passed is an important first step in making the co-op sales process more timely and transparent. We expect the process to be faster and smoother going forward, and we expect the Human Rights Commission to be diligent in looking at the rejection data to make sure all Westchester residents are treated equally when it comes to co-op housing.”

Board Chair Ben Boykin (D-White Plains, Scarsdale, Harrison) noted that the final bill reflected a significant amount of community input that was developed over a long time period.

“I’m proud to say that working together, listening to the concerns of everyone involved—co-op boards, co-op owners, co-op buyers, and Realtors—we’ve crafted a measure that improves the process and fights discrimination.”

John Jordan
Editor, Real Estate In-Depth