Tag Archives: dogs

Wild letter from coop lawyer hides true cost of dog lawsuits

First, read this. It’s a letter from cooperator Tommy Loeb to board president Gary Altman asking (not for the first time) for a full accounting of the costs of our litigation against dog owners and the U.S. Attorney’s suit against East River which was settled this spring.

ER lawyer Bradley Silverbush with his Lamborghini.
ER lawyer Bradley Silverbush with his Lamborghini.
Legal fees had increased 462% in the three years before our last published financial statement in June 2014. This excessive cost of litigation was cited by participants in our open meeting and dog poll this summer as a big reason for supporting a more permissive pet policy.

Now read the response Tommy got yesterday — not from Gary Altman, but from Bradley Silverbush, the lawyer who litigated the cases against shareholders and defended the coop against the U.S. Attorney. It’s typical (unfortunately) of the board’s approach to sharing information with shareholders.

Dear Mr Loeb:

I am in receipt of the copy of the letter you sent to me, referencing Gary Altman. As you know, I am one of the attorneys for your coop, and was the lead attorney on the USA v. East River case, as well as the underlying related litigation before the administrative agencies, the housing court, and State court. There is no one in a better position to address any related issue, or any aspect of that litigation, than I. I read your letter in disbelief, because I am astounded that anyone (let alone anyone who knows the truth) would engage in the sort of false allegation and innuendo that your letter wreaks of.

At the outset, when one goes off by sending insulting emails to a board member (especially one who, in my professional opinion, is beyond reproach), and copies it to others, I have to ask myself, “what kind of person would do such a thing?” Here, I believe that the answer is rather apparent; a person who has his own agenda, and is attempting to needlessly and improperly smear the reputation of a person who dedicates a great deal of time to the betterment of the coop. That time consuming and thankless work given by dedicated people like Mr. Altman, where there is nothing in that selfless dedication, except to have rude and crude people like you criticize, second guess, insult, and incite others to engage in similarly reprehensible and unfair innuendo. Mr. Altman does what he does out of a selfless desire for the betterment of the entire cooperative corporation. For people like yourself, on the other hand, you seek to besmirch his reputation for reasons I cannot fathom, except for what can only be some personal perverse please. Your conduct in doing so offends my sensibilities, and again, has me asking “what kind of man are you?”

Mr. Altman is one of 11 members of the elected board, and he has been honored to serve as president for the past year after the resignation of the former president for family reasons. He stepped up, and does what needs to be done to effectively undertake and accomplish the tasks with which he has been charged. Mr. Altman has previously proven himself to be adept at undertaking his duties and performing the difficult tasks with which he has been entrusted; the difficult and time consuming work that is associated with running a coop as complex as East River. In fact, in the over 30 years I have been involved with legal representation of East River, all of the people I have come to know and respect have consistently, and without exception, hailed him as the paradigm of the selfless, bright, compassionate, considerate, smart, and thoughtful individual who exemplifies dedication to the principles that work for the betterment of the coop. What is that you have done, Mr. Loeb, other than second-guess and insult Mr. Altman, for some personal reason? Have you done anything to improve the coop?

Surely you must be aware that the entire board, and not Mr. Altman (nor any one member), publishes the board newsletter. As such, the referenced March 2014 letter, which hinted that after approximately 3-4 years of zero increases that a carrying charge increase may be necessary, was reflective of the board’s position (and not Mr. Altman’s opinion alone). As you must also be aware, to date (more than a year and a half later), no increase has yet been given (as the board has taken other actions to bring in additional revenue up to this point). All of the foregoing has been communicated to the cooperators.

Based upon the information I have, it seems that you have some very close friends on the board, board members who are not shy about releasing board information. Such acts may be, in my opinion, a breach of the board members’ fiduciary obligations. So, why do you play games, and act coy? Why are you attempting to denigrate a person whose exercise of judgment has always been with the coop’s best interest as his paramount concern? Quite frankly, I suspect (indeed….I am fairly confident) that any information you seek has already been obtained by you long ago. As such, it is gamesmanship on your part, and inappropriate, for you to be referring to all board communications as if they came from Mr. Altman (I note your constant use of the word “You” in your correspondence).

When and if I prepare any information regarding the settlement of the dog cases (which was a priority of Mr. Altman’s when he assumed the presidency, along with most of the board members, in their attempt to prevent cooperators from having to face additional mounting legal fees), I am certain that it will be sent to all cooperators at the same time. I seriously doubt that Mr. Altman ever told you that you would receive an exclusive copy of any communication from the coop’s attorneys. We don’t do that, Mr. Loeb; only people like your friends do that. So your statement suggests to me what can only be a fabrication, because you are not special, and you are not entitled to anything other than what is properly distributed to all shareholders. Again, I ask myself, what are you doing with this nonsense of yours, and why would anyone do what you are doing here?

Surely you know that Mr. Altman has spent virtually his entire life in public service, selflessly trying to help others to the best of his ability; so, your implied or actual threats are not only rude and inappropriate, but are meaningless. To a man like Mr. Altman, who has committed no improprieties, threats are of no concern. Why and how people like yourself can get joy from attacking others (and I am not referring solely to Mr. Altman here) in unsigned distributions replete with lies and half-truths, is something I will never be able to fully understand. I have the benefit of knowing what you do not, that while you are an angry and calculating individual with your own personal agenda, Mr. Altman, and others like him, are able to sleep every night cloaked in the love of their family and the knowledge that what they have done is for the betterment of the coop, and the hope that what they have accomplished has helped at least one more person in need that day.

Perhaps your misguided group should for once try to learn how to truly help others, rather than find negativity in everything done in beautiful East River. Maybe if they were to do so, then perhaps others would find more satisfaction in their lives. I am unaware of any other development in our city, and probably in our State, where one can proudly live in such beautiful surroundings for the very low monthly carrying charges all of you pay (and still look out for your very large senior population on fixed incomes).

Finally, please note that any non-confidential (and sadly, if not improperly, confidential) information that you believe you have not yet exclusively received (or perhaps don’t recall receiving) can, I am sure, be obtained from your friends on the board. We both know who your sources on the board are, so do us both a favor, and at least stop with the pretenses. Life is too precious to waste on false, needless, and harmful negativity. But if you want to continue in that vein, then so be it. As always, East River’s annual report (including all financial data certified by independent auditors) will be distributed to all cooperators prior to your upcoming annual meeting, as it has been in the past. You may think that you have some special entitlement, but you don’t. Personally, I don’t give a damn about what you may think you are entitled to. What have you ever done to improve any aspect of East River? Anything? Ever?

Bradley Scott Silverbush

733 Third Avenue | New York, New York 10017
(212) 551-8409 (Direct Phone) | (212) 551-8484 (Fax)
bsilverbush@rosenbergestis.com | www.rosenbergestis.com

Cooperators kept in the dark about true cost of dogsuits

Board president Gary Altman still has not delivered on a promise to give a full accounting of the coop’s legal expenses for dog litigation and the federal discrimination suit settled earlier this year.

Legal fees have skyrocketed for the past four years due to legal action initiated by the coop. Last year, Altman admitted that $575,000 had been spent in the 2013-14 fiscal year on legal expenses related to dog litigation. He said he “expected that our insurance company will reimburse the Corporation for a substantial portion of this amount,” but in February’s board newsletter, that insurance claim was revealed to be only $195,000. Furthermore, these announced expenses predate most of the work relating to the federal lawsuit, which occurred in the 2014-15 fiscal year, and do not include expenses from previous years, when the coop started to incur unusually high legal fees.

Cooperator Tommy Loeb, who raised the question at last year’s annual meeting and has pressed Altman in the months since for an answer, sent another letter yesterday requesting a full accounting of these expenses.

From 2011 through June 30, 2014, “legal and audit” expenses have increased 462%, costing the coop an additional $1.2 million. Legal costs in the 15 months since have not been revealed at all. Furthermore, despite substantial interest from cooperators in a more reasonable pet policy, the board has made no move alter its policy or legal strategy, meaning these legal costs could continue to climb.

Here is the letter sent to Mr. Altman:

Dear Mr. Altman,

I am contacting you regarding my August 10, 2015 letter requesting a full accounting of expenses on the pet litigation. I have enclosed a copy of the letter. When we met at the Coastal Resiliency Planning meeting on September 10 you told me a letter was being prepared by a lawyer to respond to my inquiry and I would receive it shortly.

I have also enclosed a copy of “The Board Room” newsletter of July 2015 where you did not provide accurate financial information based on your previous replies to this question. Is it true that the coop only spent $85,000 on dog litigation as you represented in the letter? I also enclosed a copy of your March 2014 memo where you indicate that the pet litigation will seriously effect coop finances and may result in a maintenance increase.

I would like to remind you that you have an obligation to accurately report and inform the more than 1600 East River Cooperators of the finances of East River Housing.

It has now been 30 days since you said I would get a reply. If I do not receive a reply by November 1 you will leave me no alternative but to contact the New York State Attorney General which I held off doing given your commitment to a reply.

The Attorney General has jurisdiction to guarantee the Cooperative Boards uphold their fiduciary responsibility and honestly report the financial position of the coop. I will ask him to intervene to get us the information we deserve if you continue to withhold this information.

Tommy Loeb

Costs of dogsuit still not revealed by directors

The recent board newsletter made scant mention of the cost of the dog litigation we’ve been mired in for years. Under the heading “Dog Litigation — Resolution,” the newsletter mentioned $85,000 paid to two dog-owners by our insurance carrier, but did not resolve how much we’ve paid in attorney’s fees for this failed legal strategy.

At last year’s annual meeting, cooperator Tommy Loeb asked how much we’d spent on lawyers and was answered weeks later by board president Gary Altman: “The amount is approximately $575,000. It is expected that our insurance company will reimburse the Corporation for a substantial portion of this amount.” In its February newsletter, the board noted that $195,000 in legal fees had been reimbursed by insurance.

When the settlement was first reported in the news, back in March, Tommy again reached out to Altman, but was told that since the settlement was not final a full accounting could not be delivered.

Five months later, and Tommy’s getting a little impatient. He has sent a follow-up letter to Altman and the rest of the directors this week demanding accountability for the expensive, unnecessary, and unsuccessful lawsuits our coop has initiated over the past three years.

legal expensesThe line item for legal and audit expenses has increased 462% over the past three years, costing the coop an additional $1.2 million. And that’s only through June 2014, before most of the federal lawsuit played out. A whole year has passed since then, and the board is only willing to tell us how much was paid by our insurance carrier, not how much was paid by you and me.

Is it Dog Independence Day at East River?

Results are in from our cooperative poll on East River’s pet policy, and the tally is conclusive: just over 75% of cooperators are in favor of adopting a more dog-friendly pet policy.

Dog Poll 2015

So is it Independence Day for dogs? Well it’s not that simple. Our proprietary lease — where East River’s no-pet policy is enshrined — can be amended only by a two-thirds majority of shareholders at the annual meeting.

But such a large affirmative response to our poll should make putting such an amendment on this year’s agenda a priority for the board of directors.

Some thoughtful comments on both sides of the dog question

We should have a tally from all votes cast this weekend. In the meantime, I wanted to share with you two notes that were submitted with poll results this week.

The first is from a cooperator who points to the unfairness of letting cooperators who willingly broke the rules get their way:

Dog letter 1 - Jul 2, 2015, 8-24 AM

The second is more sympathetic to dog owners, but asks why some dog owners are so disrespectful of our sidewalks and parks, and also how certain provisions of a potentially new dog policy would work:

Dog letter 2 - Jul 2, 2015, 8-25 AM

I really appreciate these perspectives. In order to figure out the right policy, it’s important to have these conversations.

Make your voice heard: Vote in our dog poll

Earlier this month, cooperators met to discuss the ramifications of a settlement with the U.S. Attorney permitting service and support animals at East River, and to debate whether it was time to alter our strict no-pet policy, as Hillman and Seward have done over the past few years.

The result of that meeting was two opposing policy proposals:

  • The first proposal supports the current policy — that is, no dogs allowed — but urges management to enforce that policy in a way that limits the attorney fees have piled up over the past few years ($1.2 million and counting).
  • The second proposal asks for a change in coop policy to let dogs live here in peace, allowing for DNA registration and a formal complaint process that would give management the opportunity to evict dogs that exhibit bad behavior.

Which position more closely resembles yours? Vote with the paper survey distributed to your door, or online right here the poll is now closed, results to be announced shortly.

Click above to vote online.

There’s lots more on this topic on our website — click here for our full dog archive.

Dog meeting (6/1) recap

About 75 cooperators met last week to discuss our current pet policy and review some possible alternatives.

We started by outlining some basic facts:

  • East River Coop has a strict no-pet policy. (That’s right: no pets, not just dogs.)
  • Prospective buyers get a home visit specifically to look for signs of dogs. (Cats do seem to get a pass.)
  • All new owners must sign a separate rider acknowledging that they do not own a dog and will not bring a dog to live in East River.
  • There are people who move here specifically because of that no-pet policy. It’s not there by mistake. It’s what cooperators here have expected and wanted for years.

City and federal laws make this policy difficult to enforce:

  • NYC’s pet law states that anyone who has a dog out in the open for 90 days without being given a notice to cure by management can keep the dog. So management needs to act fast to have any hope of getting rid of a dog.
  • The Americans with Disabilities Act and Fair Housing Act state that anyone with a disability gets an exception to a no-pet rule. Emotional support animals are no different from seeing-eye dogs.

Recent events helped shape our discussion:

  • Over the past five years, East River’s board and management have increased enforcement of the no-pet policy, sending notices to cure within 90 days and threatening cooperators with eviction. Legal fees in that time have increased more than $1.2 million.
  • Three cooperators who were denied emotional support exceptions complained to the department of Housing and Urban Development, the federal office that enforces the Fair Housing Act, that East River Coop had violated their rights. Subsequently, the U.S. government sued East River Housing for discrimination.
  • The settlement of that case makes clear that broad accommodation must be given to anyone with a disability who can get a letter of support from a health professional.

Cooperators broke up into two groups — pro and con — to form competing policy proposals. A third group of cooperators who could see both sides challenged the proposals when they were presented to the whole group.

No dogs

hate dogsTeam 2 Legs did not want dogs at East River. Since they did not want to see the current policy change, they were tasked with outlining enforcement guidelines.

They used the example of Waterside Plaza, where a no-dog policy is strictly enforced by building staff. Security cameras are monitored at all entrances and any dog seen entering the property is targeted quickly for a notice to cure. Dogs are not permitted to visit the buildings at all.

Dogs that currently live at East River, or any new support animals, would need to be registered with management; a tag would identify these dogs as permitted. Security staff would be responsible for checking tags for all dogs entering the coop. (Our security contract may need to be revised to make this an explicit part of the job description; guards could also be given incentives for catching unregistered dogs.)

The goal of policy enforcement would be to cut down on the lawsuits that have sapped the coop’s finances. Vigilance by staff on the ground should limit the need for lawyers. And consistent application of the no-dog policy would signal to others that it’s not worth trying to game the system.

Pet-friendly East River

love dogsTeam 4 Legs emphatically wanted East River to become a pet-friendly coop. They worked together to develop a proposal for a new policy that would admit dogs to the coop, with some regulations.

By and large, they followed a model that Hillman has adopted on a trial basis, allowing for registration, DNA testing, and behavioral restrictions. (Hillman board member Mathew Quezada, who is also an East River shareholder, attended the meeting and was very encouraging of Hillman’s year-old new policy.)

Dog-lovers emphasized that size and breed did not determine a dog’s behavior, and that bad behavior can and should be regulated. In Hillman, for example, a first complaint is investigated, a second complaint mandates behavior training, and a third complaint allows the coop to evict the dog. Quezada said that Hillman has over 30 registered dogs and only a handful of complaints, all of which have been settled without escalation.

DNA testing in Hillman allows management to investigate whose dog is pooping on the property, and fines can then be added to a cooperator’s monthly maintenance.

Our meeting was weighted heavily toward dog-lovers, but that may just be an indication of their passion — no one has yet determined whether there is a majority of cooperators in favor of changing East River’s policy.

Cooperatively Yours will attempt to gauge interest in a policy change with a survey conducted over the next two weeks. (Though only a full vote by shareholders can change our rules.)

Why the recent dogsuit settlement was no surprise

Here’s a very relevant article forwarded to me by a neighbor, “End of an era: Why Co-ops should allow dogs.”

In it, a NYC real estate attorney explains how New York’s pet law and the Americans with Disabilities Act combine to render no-pet policies ineffective.

The attorney, Dean Roberts, describes a scenario very familiar to anyone at East River: a large post-war coop with an explicit ban on dogs started action in housing court against a new shareholder who moved in with his dog despite having signed a statement claiming he did not own one; he subsequently produced a doctor’s note stating that the dog was for emotional support; housing court sided with the dog-owner.

Says Roberts, “My client, the co-op, was stuck with a dog it didn’t want, a legal bill, and the firsthand knowledge that in New York, no-dog policies have become extraordinarily difficult to enforce.”

His legal recommendation? “Here is the somewhat counterintuitive counsel I give my co-op board clients: the deck has become so stacked against no-dog policies that the best course of action in the ’emotional support’ era is to allow some dogs.” He continues:

A restrictive policy designed to limit intrusion and disruptiveness by regulating the size, number and behavior of the dogs actually gives boards more control than a straight no-dog policy, because owners who use the “emotional support” argument are still required to comply with the limitations set by the board. While the co-op must tolerate some dogs, it can at least regulate them and their behavior … and hope that, eventually, courts will give democratically established rules their fair due.

This article was written over three years ago, which means that East River should not have been surprised that cooperators claiming psychiatric exception to our no-pet policy were ultimately allowed to keep their dogs.

Also this: the author, Dean Roberts, is an attorney at Norris McLaughlin & Marcus, the same firm that represents East River Housing in all matters except dog litigation.

legal expensesDespite the mounting evidence that no-pet policies are difficult to enforce, the coop has spent at least $1.2 million over the past four years trying to evict dog-owners. At the very least we need to acknowledge this reality: keeping East River dog-free won’t be cost-free. If it’s a priority, as it surely is for some cooperators, we need to accept that it’s going to be expensive.