By Rob Abruzzese, Legal Editor Brooklyn Daily Eagle
The Brooklyn Bar Association’s Foundation Law Committee hosted a public seminar on Monday for co-op dwellers titled “Co-op Living: Know Your Rights as a Shareholder and as a Renter,” during which an attorney explained the common problems that arise and how to handle them.
The Foundation Law Committee, which is chaired by Fern Finkel, is the public and philanthropic arm of the Brooklyn Bar Association (BBA) and regularly hosts public forums to inform the community of their legal rights.
“All of these programs are free to the public,” Finkel said. “I see a few attorneys and judges here tonight, but this is really meant for all of your neighbors, your friends and your community.
It’s really hard to get legal advice from practitioners in a field, but here is a great and unique opportunity.”
BBA trustee Jimmy Lathrop was the lecturer. He spoke for an hour and a half on the rights of cooperative shareholders and renters under the Martin Act and NYS Constitution. Afterward he stayed and spoke one-on-one with some of the more than 80 attendees.
“Jimmy Lathrop worked for a while for the BBA and has done extensive pro bono work,” Finkel said. “His credentials go on and on, but what he is really known for is his expertise and ability to handle complex matters in the housing court, landlord tenant court, co-ops and condos and a number of other fields. He has a wonderful office and a real ability to listen.”
In explaining the intricacies of dealing with co-ops, Lathrop started by explaining exactly how owning or renting in a cooperative building is different from typical buildings.
“Cooperatives are very unique ownership regimes where different property interests are created,” Lathrop said. “A cooperative corporation buys a building and the cooperative is actually the owner and then shareholders purchase the cooperative shares which are then personal property and the corporation enters into long-term leases called proprietary leases entitling each shareholder to occupy a particular unit.
“Cooperatives are bound by their rules, much like a Rubik’s cube there are only so many things you can do with a cooperative unless it’s included in the offering plan, the articles of incorporation and the bylaws,” he explained.
Lathrop said that the varying motivations behind cooperative owners often lead to conflicts of interest between dwellers and even between the owner of a cooperative and the co-op board.
“As with all corporations, cooperative corporations owe their shareholders fiduciary duties and these responsibilities sometimes conflict with duties the corporation acting as landlord owes to a proprietary lessee,” he said. “That means that sometimes the cooperative has to choose the needs of the many over the needs of the few.”
The event was sponsored by the BBA’s Lawyer Referral Service (LRS), which it broadcasted over the internet using Facebook Live. LRS plans to sponsor similar topics in the future and will broadcast them live as well.
“The Lawyer Referral Service is a one of a kind nonprofit legal organization,” Lathrop said. “It screens attorneys for experience and expertise; they’re all interviewed by the LRS. It’s among the most successful legal organizations for referral services. Roseann Hiebert has been given numerous accommodations for her work with serving a very large community of litigants here in Kings County.”
Upcoming events that will be hosted by the Foundation Law Committee include one coming up on March 26 that will cover consumer debt and bankruptcy. That lecture will be conducted by Richard Klass. Then on April 30, it will host a “Know Your Rights” seminar on criminal law in conjunction with the Brooklyn Defender Services. All events are held at the Brooklyn Bar Association.