How a Queens Condo Got Its Groove (and Its Lights) Back
Habitat
By Tom Soter
05 January 2016

Philip Eng still remembers when the lights went out.

It was a Saturday afternoon in the summer of 2005. Eng had been living at the 318-unit Regent’s Park Gardens condominium in Queens for just three months, and at first he thought there had been a short circuit in his building. But then he found that the power was off in the development’s 13 other buildings as well. It stayed off for half a day.

Eventually Eng found out why: the condo’s Con Ed bills had not been paid for months. Further investigation revealed that the condo was basically broke.

The property was in financial shambles

“We owed the city a huge water and sewer bill,” Eng says. “All the members of the old board had sold their apartments and left in 2005. The property was in financial shambles. That's when I stepped in.”
 
It was a good thing he did. Eng, 64, knew about money and he knew about real estate. He had been a building inspector for an insurance company, then worked as a real estate appraiser, and has spent the last 25 years as a senior tax assessor with the city’s Department of Finance.
 
He soon discovered that the problems at Regent’s Park Gardens could be traced back to 1990, when the sponsor of the 1986 condo conversion went belly up. The property was then managed by a unit-owner, who, Eng recalls, “drove the property into the ground. We had $1 million in the reserve fund in 1990. By 2005, that was all depleted. Out of 25 years of operation, we had about 18 years of deficits. Those were covered by going into the reserve funds so that by 2005, there was nothing left. Plus we owed bills.”
 
Eng says the unit-owners were satisfied with board assurances that everything was okay – and, more to the point, they were pleased that the board hadn’t raised the common charges in at least a decade. After the board members resigned and moved out in 2005, Eng joined the board.

“The first thing we did was to get rid of the self-managed concept,” he says. “We needed professional people here.”
 
After the board brought in All Area Property Management, Eng suggested that they track down unit-owners in arrears. In the past, the board would accept whatever the delinquent would offer. Eng argued: "That's not the way to operate. You slap a lien on the guy and make him pay the whole amount." The board collected much of the money it was owed, but, even more importantly, it changed the way the owners thought about their property. “People began to realize that it wasn't to their benefit not to pay on time,” Eng says.
 
The next step was to increase the common charges, by a total of 40 percent over what it had been two years prior. Simply by collecting outstanding arrears and raising common charges, the board has been able to balance the budget and do up to $400,000 of capital projects each year for the last few years. Now the lights stay on at Regent’s Park Gardens – and property values are up.

“Some people like to build things with their hands,” Eng says. “That's great. But if you like to build things with your mind, being a board member is a good way of doing it.”


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