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Can’t Stand The Heat

You know the rest.  You’ve already been warned that you must have Thick Skin of you want to be on the board.  In case you need a reminder, you just got one thanks to – who else – a testy lawyer who owned a baker’s dozen of apartments in a Forest Hills co-op.

He got into a dispute with the board and the building over damages to his mini empire that he said were caused by a long-standing leak left unattended that breached the Warranty of Habitability even though as the judges reminded him, the warranty only applies to apartments you live in, a mere two out of thirteen at the time.

The argument spilled over into a claim that one of his fellow directors had defamed him to fellow directors and all the shareholders, saying he’d engaged in criminal conduct and been a nuisance, and had conflicts of interest, and clogged his drainpipe. Frankly, it sounds like child’s play compared to some of the verbal abuse I’ve heard hurled at annual meetings, and seen written in memos stuffed under doors (even though Deliver De Letter cautioned you not to go that route,).

Sticks and stones may break your bones, but names will never harm you – not legally, anyway. That’s essentially what the judge told him, at least not if the words are uttered in your own building by your fellow neighbors, if not necessarily friends. It’s the usual kind of generic bad mouthing that comes with being on the board in lots of buildings, and without any specific nasty words it may be insulting, but it’s not actionable.  Sure maybe what the director said wasn’t nice, but there’s no proof he was trying to be mean or acted with malice, which is what practically every decision says, and makes you wonder if those judges ever lived in a co-op or condo or understand how buildings work.

But the real reason that the director/shareholder got away with saying what he said, is the same reason owners virtually always do There’s a privilege that protects residents who share a common interest in the building where they live from communicating with each other about what goes on there. 

So for better or worse verbal mud slinging is alive and well, having just received its latest judicial seal of approval. Not that it matters, at least judging by the email I got from a board member in a Manhattan condo telling me he was suing, you guessed it, his fellow board member, for libel for all the bad things he said and did. Good luck, he’ll need it.

Click here to read the case, just enter under search by citation: 2010 N.Y. Slip Op. 51086(U)

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