Ombudsman Bill S. 395 / A. 6941

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Overview

Owners need & deserve tools to facilitate correcting bad behavior without relying on an overburdened & slow court system (especially since, when litigating against Boards, owners pay both sides’ legal costs*).

The “Ombudsman Bill,” which ACCO strongly supports, would create such tools.  We believe this legislation will provide, to hundreds of thousands of New York residents, resources & support to help them achieve & maintain democratic representation, transparency, fair play, & accountability in their housing communities.

In the many housing associations which already enjoy these things, Boards need only continue their current management practice & remain accountable to owners.

* for more detail on legal costs, see FAQs

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The Legislation

Links to the actual bills working their way through the NY State Legislature:

Senate:           Bill S.395

Assembly:       Bill A.6941

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Why $6

We’ve heard two objections to this bill based on its built-in funding.  The 1st is that it’s just too expensive for owners to afford.  We’ve not heard this complaint from individual owners…& don’t expect we will; at $6, per apartment, per year—less than $.02 per day—it just isn’t a burden.  Several Board members & agents, however, have expressed concern about how much it will cost buildings in the aggregate…yet this pass-through expense will barely register on a budget, even in a large building.

More interesting is the thought-provoking objection raised by a number of owners:  “Why should we pay anything to fund an ombudsman office, when these issues could be handled by the Attorney General or another state agency?”  In short, ACCO agrees: we’ve already paid for this government service, through our taxes.  In effect, the $6 is a new tax, a surcharge—albeit a small one—on condo & co-op living.

Why, then, do we so strongly support this bill, complete with its extra tax?   It’s a simple question of principle vs. pragmatism.  We want this bill implemented ASAP, & the $6 cost is so low as to be of no consequence to individual owners.  Here are 3 pragmatic reasons it’s a no-brainer:

1.  The NY State Budget. We all know how close the state came to shutting down essential services recently because legislators couldn’t agree where to cut corners to cobble together a budget.  The simple fact is that new bills which require funding won’t get considered, let alone passed.  The bill’s self-funding provision made it possible for Senator Krueger & Assemblyman Farrell to introduce this important legislation in a bad economic climate.

2.  Other voters. Though our numbers are large, co-op shareholders & condo owners would not dominate the state even if unanimous.  Voters who rent, & those who own single-family homes (outside of HOAs), would be right to presume the Ombudsman Bill brings them no direct benefits.  It’s easy to imagine these voters fighting the establishment of a costly new agency that only helps others;  if the Ombudsman is self-funded, they should have no objection.

3.  Protected funds. Having watched the budget process as program after program goes under the knife, the benefits of a dedicated, protected source of funds are obvious.  The $6 fee is a virtual guarantee that this important agency, & the vital protections it provides, will not be cut back or eliminated because of future state budget concerns.

Yes—this nominal fee is one that we co-op & condo owners should not have to pay.  But, when we consider how much it would cost to continue doing “business as usual,” it’s easy to make such a small compromise of principle for such a worthwhile objective.

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Debate

Debate in the press has been illustrative & helpful, starting with the cover story of the March ’11 Habitat Magazine:

The Habitat Ombudsman Debate

Ombudsman story & comment–Habitat Dec ’10

Ombudsman critique & response–Your Nabe

brickunderground.com interview

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