After the Mortgage Payoff Options for the Cooperative

        We suggest that boards – or committees formed to advise the boards – take advantage of these resources, as well as consulting with the cooperative’s own professionals. Beyond the expertise of these professionals, there are networking opportunities with other similarly situated cooperatives that are wrestling with identical concerns, allowing the exchange of experiences.

        A library should be amassed from the literature obtained in this quest for guidance within the board records. Written opinions should be requested of the cooperative’s professionals on the question. This is an important proactive measure to protect the board from lawsuits brought by members, since it creates evidence that the board relied on expert advice – thus invoking the business judgment rule, which can be used to defeat challenges to the ultimate decisions made.

        As noted above, the cooperative – regardless of whether it is a limited equity or a market rate type – need not take any action simply because the mortgage is paid off and HUD is gone. Beyond doing nothing are a few options that need to be understood in order to fulfill the boards’ role as fiduciaries.

        For the limited equity cooperative, it may consider transforming itself to a market rate. The obvious reason for doing so is to unleash the captive equity, and allow the market to determine what an outgoing member can sell his or her membership for. While this may sound appealing and a clear choice, it is not so simple. If a cooperative is located within a depressed market area, memberships may not be so marketable and capable of commanding a significant sum from buyers. This may result in vacancies and those members who remain get saddled with covering the costs of empty units.

        Moreover, the membership may believe in the goal of providing low and moderate income people with affordable housing options. Thus, as a matter of policy, the cooperative may wish to remain limited equity.

        Another choice, which we do not embrace, is the conversion to condominiums. While we oppose this option, it still must be studied and considered. Members will raise it because it is commonly felt that it represents a pot of gold for those who remain at the cooperative through the conversion process and then sell their condo units for significant returns. A board needs to know of the pros and cons of condo versus cooperative, and be ready to explain why the cooperative form of ownership is preferred.

        As an aside, we oppose the condo option for two reasons: one is philosophical and the other is pragmatic. We believe that the cooperative form is vastly superior because it allows for pooling resources and taking care of the needs of the membership through a democratic process, engendering a mindset that promotes the community as a whole. Condos, on the other hand, promote an “us versus them” attitude.

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