un-neighborly neighbors / the dynamics of dysfunction

how do you solve a problem like Allan?
When I was president of a small Manhattan loft coop, we used to joke about having ‘the rule of one’ – as in trying to maintain a shareholder population with no more than one [jerk] at a time. Whether we were good at the admissions process or just lucky that people got socialized within a small group of “cooperating” neighbors, we never had more than one [jerk] at a time.
Once the relationships between neighbors are strained they can be difficult to repair – especially in small loft buildings — and the coop or condo leaders can be faced with the contradictory tasks of defending themselves while protecting the social atmosphere.
The NY Post reported last week about a small war in the 175 unit condominium at 155 East 38 Street pitting a 90 year old nearly blind unit owner against the condo board of managers, the managing agent, and the condo’s lawyers. That unhappy owner, Allan Ash, employs a weapon of mass communication – having circulated to other owners more than 100 “newsletters” since 2003 with his complaints.
The Post did not give many details, but reported that the judge involved in the dispute ordered Mr. Ash to stop sending the newsletters, finding that
… Ash was improperly using his lawsuit to harass the board members with a "relentless campaign," and ordered him to stop distributing the newsletter in his building.
The New York Law Journal January 23 article about the case provided many more details (thanks Tom!), from which the intensity of Mr. Ash’s war is more apparent, in one “newsletter” he said:
"The Condominium’s money has been spent for self-serving purposes for the benefit of [board] members and perhaps their close friends and for cover-up of theft and misappropriation of our funds. I am certain of one thing – [they] are immoral, lack integrity, and have committed acts which no doubt are illegal."
The court found that:
He has also called and written to board members’ employers, passing on details of their alleged misdoings.
On the one hand there is Mr. Ash, condo crusader. On the other hand there are the members of the condo board of directors, the managing agent, and counsel. Other condo owners are caught, if not in the middle, then in the role of bankrolling the disputes and having to decide about continuing governance. As the condo’s counsel explained to the court, it is not so easy to find people willing to volunteer as directors in the face of these attacks:
"Quite apart from the insults and damage to [various board members], this type of diatribe and behavior by Mr. Ash has an absolutely chilling effect on the willingness of other owners and residents of the building to participate in the governance and operation of the building."
Can you put a number on the dollar cost of such bad blood? In part, yes.
Mr. Ash has already spent more than $500,000, thereby forcing the condo to spend a comparable amount of money, [the condo attorney] said.
Nor is it clear that it will ever end. The court order seems clearly to prohibit Mr. Ash from sending any more “newsletters” and his First Amendment counsel said of the court order:
"We’re challenging it. We’re not disobeying it."
Nonetheless, the Post article ended with this statement:
Ash said he’s planning on putting out a new edition of the Gazette today.
Stay tuned….
© Sandy Mattingly 2007
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