August 24, by Nathaly Pesantez
The condo board from hell– known for allowing images of Hitler and the Confederacy to go up in the lobby–has waged war against two condo owners by systematically jacking up fees and imposing hefty fines, according to a lawsuit filed by the alleged victims.
The plaintiffs, the husband and wife duo of Jerry Iannece and Lynn Calvacca, filed suit April 18 against the board claiming that they have been hit with exorbitant fines and fees since they fell out of favor with the board. They claim that the board does not have the authority to arbitrarily impose many of these fees without a bylaw change– requiring a vote of unit owners.
The suit also claims that the board has been harassing residents, particularly tenants. The suit focuses heavily on one defendant in particular—Neal Milano, the building’s property manager.
The couple seek millions in damages from the board as well as $50,000 from each of the five individual board members including Milano, according to the suit filed in the Supreme Court for Queens County.
Iannece and Calvacca own two condos in the building which they have rented out since they were purchased in 2008 and 2014.
They allege a history of unreasonable fines, including hefty application and interview fees for prospective tenants. In 2012, a $750 fee was imposed for the first time, which was upped to $1,500 in 2014 after they complained, and increased again in 2015 to $2,500 after more protests. The couple claim that board set the fine for nonpayment at $5,000.
They argue that the fees made it difficult to rent their units, and they were forced to pay these fees out of their own pocket. The couple want those fees returned.
The suit alleges that the condo board targeted them again, by amending the house rules when they bought their second condo. The board notified them that all buyers would be subject to an $850 application fee and a $1500 management fee, which the plaintiffs were forced to pay. In late 2015, the plaintiffs say another amendment was passed that required sellers to pay a processing and service fee of $5,000, with purchasers required to pay a $1,500 application fee and a $2,500 management fee.
The suit also says that other charges were imposed on tenants and owners of rental units sometime after the current condo board members took charge in 2011. The board added a $100 a month surcharge if a guest was in the unit, a $500 per week contractor surcharge during renovations, and a $300 elevator fee during renovations.
One of the couple’s tenants was hit with a $500 fine for disposing a Christmas tree at the curbside, which was disposed of according to Department of Sanitation instructions, according to the suit. The condo board, in a notice, said the tenant was “deranged, vile, animalistic, and despicable” for this. The suit further alleges that the condo board repeatedly circulated notices through the building with slanderous pictures and language against the same tenant, which were allegedly also sent to the tenant’s work place. The tenant filed a criminal complaint with the NYPD.
The plaintiffs say that the condo board unlawfully hiked the fees and fines through amendments to the house rules. They argue that board needed to change the condo’s bylaws to impose such fees, requiring it to put to a vote by all the unit owners.
Derailed their attempts to be on the board
The couple say that their attempt to be on the condo board in 2015 was unfairly thwarted. They claim that the board intimidated unit owners to support the existing members prior to the election, and that the board made derogatory and false statements about them to unit owners to discourage support.
Furthermore, the couple claims that months after the election, the condo board changed the eligibility rules to stop any future attempts at running. The suit claims that the board put in place a requirement limiting board eligibility to those who have lived in the building for at least one year. Since the plaintiffs rent out their condos, they claim the rule was changed to deliberately shut them out.
As for the lobby, which features elaborate murals depicting scenes and figures in American history, including images of Hitler and Mussolini opposite the Allied powers in a World War II banner, the couple say the condo board did not consult with unit owners about it, and that the murals caused “alarm, annoyance, and monetary devaluation of the entire building.” Complaints to the condo board made by the plaintiffs about the murals, and suggestions to have non-political covering in the lobby, were refused.
In another complaint about building decorations, the plaintiffs also allege that during holidays, the condo board puts up large, inflatable figurines that play holiday music 24/7 and are operated by loud air blowers and compressors. The suit, which calls these decorations and their noise “a menace to public health” also alleges that when the condo board was asked to turn it down, stop or reduce the duration of the figurines and their noise, the board allegedly raised the volume, to the annoyance of those on the first floor where the decorations are nearest.
The suit claims that Neal Milano, the property manager and secretary of the board, is the “major initiator and instigator” of the above.
The suit also claims Milano had an outstanding lien against the units he owned in the building, but when he and “a group of disgruntled unit owners” took control of the condo board in 2011, they “conspired” to make the lien disappear.
The plaintiffs are urging that he be removed from his role immediately, and are also seeking monetary compensation for the fines placed and to cover their list of grievances.
Jacob Laufer, attorney for the condo board and its members, filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit in July.
“The lawsuit is without legal merit,” Laufer said.
The motion says that the management and application fees imposed by the board are lawful and within the board’s power, and that the fees go toward the “well-being of the condominium.” The motion also says that the fees are not arbitrary or discriminatory, for two of the board members listed as defendants, who recently sold their units, also paid the application fees. Therefore, it argues, the defendants were not unfairly targeted.
The motion also says that the individual board members cannot be sued, which is part of the bylaws.
The murals in the lobby and the holiday decorations, the motion adds, were voted on and approved by the board.
The motion says that the plaintiffs shouldn’t be filing a lawsuit to bring change; instead, they should focus on voting in a different board.
“Normal principles of corporate governance and democracy dictate that if the plaintiffs object their recourse is not judicial intervention, but rather to vote for a different Board,” reads the motion. “In fact, the plaintiffs come to court because Plaintiff Jerry Iannece ran for the board but lost the election.”