HGAR Officials, Members Testify in Favor of Co-Op Disclosure Legislation Before Westchester County Board of Legislators

John Jordan | May 25, 2021

Top Row (left to right); HGAR President, Crystal Hawkins-Syska; HGAR Chief Executive Officer, Richard Haggerty; HGAR President-elect, Anthony Domathoti. Bottom Row (left to right); HGAR Treasurer, Carmen Bauman; Legislative Committee Co-Chair, Leah Caro; Former HGAR President, Barry Kramer

WHITE PLAINS—A host of prominent Westchester County Realtors testified in favor of a long sought-after co-op disclosure bill last night during a virtual public hearing before the Westchester County Board of Legislators.

The amendments to current county law would require that co-op boards provide a reason for the denial of an application when the co-op board notifies the county’s Human Rights Commission of a denial. The measure would also require disclosure of minimum financial requirements to applicants before they apply. The County Board of Legislators could hold a vote on whether to approve the bill in a few weeks, according to Philip Weiden, government affairs director for the Hudson Gateway Association of Realtors.

Among the many HGAR officials and members that testified before the County Board of Legislators included: HGAR President Crystal Hawkins-Syska, HGAR Chief Executive Officer Richard Haggerty, HGAR President-elect Anthony Domathoti, HGAR Treasurer Carmen Bauman, Legislative Committee Co-Chair Leah Caro, Barry Kramer, John Crittenden, Ray Hollingsworth Falu, Dorothy Botsoe, Jean Tickell, Mary Kingsley, Jerome Jeffrey, J. Philip Faranda, Gary Leogrande and Nick Wolff.

Representatives of co-op management, including members of the Building and Realty Institute, testified against the bill, charging that the measure is unnecessary and would result in increased litigation and insurance costs.

Weiden, who also testified at the session, shot down those claims, noting that in Suffolk County, the Village of Hempstead and Rockland County, where co-op disclosure legislation have been enacted, have not seen marked increases in lawsuits or cooperative insurance costs. He also noted that since Westchester passed legislation in 2018 requiring co-op Boards adhere to a time frame to respond to purchase applications, more than 500 co-op application denials have been referred to the Westchester County Human Rights Commission.

HGAR’s Caro noted that under current law, a co-op board is not required to inform a shareholder in the cooperative (the seller) the reason for its denial of a purchase application. She later told legislators, “You will likely hear from (co-op) Board members that they do not discriminate. That’s great. Then I argue what is the downside of providing a written reason?”

“As someone who has owned and lived in co-ops for the past 30 years and who has served on co-op Boards, including the position of President of a co-op Board, I fully support the proposed legislation and I applaud the efforts of the Westchester County Board of Legislators to bring about meaningful change to the co-op purchase process,” Haggerty testified. “Change can be difficult, but in this case, change is imperative.”:

A host of HGAR leaders and Westchester Realtors testified of cases where prospective co-op applicants were denied by co-op Boards despite strong credit and financial backgrounds.

“This bill at its heart speaks against inequity, discrimination and to fight back against discrimination in housing,” Domathoti said. “I believe this bill creates a tremendous opportunity to make an important stand for fairness in the co-op purchase and sale markets.”

He added, “To be clear, housing discrimination is abhorrent and has no place in Westchester. Co-ops still have the right to reject unqualified buyers, but some basic level of transparency and predictability in the process should be part of the mix.”

Former HGAR President Kramer, who has been a staunch advocate for cooperative transparency legislation in Westchester and in New York State, said the bill signed into law in December 2018 by Westchester County Executive George Latimer was a “good first step.”

“Now is the time to take this even further and make bold and meaningful changes to the way co-ops are sold,” he testified. “I’ve seen the heartbreak when someone is rejected by a co-op Board with no reason given.”

Noting that there have been more than 500 rejections sent to the county’s Human Rights Commission since 2018, the building and cooperative industry’s claim that there was no need for further regulation was simply not true, he said.

Kramer later added, “If co-op rejections occur mainly for financial reasons, then why are co-op Boards so afraid to share this information?”

John Jordan
Editor, Real Estate In-Depth