Technical Foul in an East Side Co-op

Basketball: court or co-op? (Photo by Getty Images)

Basketball: court or co-op? (Photo by Getty Images)

With the clocks set back and the temperature dropping, kids and grownups alike are turning their attention to indoor activities. I have replaced my Central Park runs with elliptical workouts at the gym, and so too have the children in my building brought their athletics inside. My first-floor neighbors, in particular, enjoy playing basketball. I know this, because I can hear them. They play it all the time, inside their apartment. I’m not talking about a child’s toy—this is the real thing.

My husband and I own 500 shares of a co-op in Carnegie Hill. We live off Park Avenue, not on, and there’s a friendly super at our door instead of a white-gloved doorman, but we’re not exactly slumming it in our Upper East Side building. Our monthly co-op fees alone are nearly twice the average American mortgage payment, then we pay the bank, all of which is on top of the 30 percent down payment the co-op board required for our purchase. White gloves or not, we pay a lot to live in our home, which would presumably buy us a more peaceful existence than we would get renting a room at the 92nd Street Y.

I am shocked that fellow shareholders thought this “home improvement” project was acceptable for cooperative living. I am appalled that the same family has repeatedly ignored their neighbors’ pleas that the disruption stop by 9 p.m. But even more surprising than the owners’ bad behavior is the fact that this made it past the co-op board and management company in the first place.

When my husband and I began the rigorous application process to buy our home, we learned a lot about acceptable East Side co-op behavior. Our first lesson came when I drafted a seemingly innocuous letter introducing us to the board. Our realtor did not voice concern over our relatively young age or our finances; it was my excitement over hosting Christmas dinner in the formal dining room that gave her anxiety. “No entertaining!” she scribbled, after scratching out my sentence. A baked ham with my in-laws could, apparently, be frowned upon. I heeded her warning and revised the letter, eliminating all reference to our future consumption of holiday meals.

Our realtor’s panic deepened when we sent her our requisite eight letters of recommendation. One reference included an anecdote about my 5-year-old self playing Beethoven symphonies on our Steinway grand piano at a long-ago family party. “No piano!” our realtor scrawled, right before she insisted that my friend rewrite her letter. I couldn’t imagine that Beethoven-playing children were bringing down the neighborhood, so on this point, I held my ground. The scandalous classical music reference stayed, but not without a final warning before our board interview: “Don’t mention your piano!”

More than two years later, as I lay in bed listening to the constant thump of a ball bouncing on the floor, a ball hitting the backboard, a ball striking the rim, I have to wonder: In a building and neighborhood where pianists are unruly and Christmas hams are contraband, how did the hoop owners get away with this?

With our own kitchen renovation underway, I am well versed in the rules of co-op construction. Each contractor, and the scope of their work, must be disclosed to the management company. Didn’t they notice a document from Basketball-Hoops-R-Us and suspect something was amiss? And wouldn’t this unusual tidbit have made its way to the co-op board?

Maybe it’s not their fault, maybe my neighbors didn’t go through the proper procedures, and maybe, until the board received a complaint letter from three families this month, they knew nothing of it. Or perhaps they mistakenly believed that the noise from the first floor would somehow fail to travel up to floors two, three and four. I try not to think the worst—that the hoop owners’ converted double apartment and double co-op fees bought them a blind eye and a really deaf ear.

If the issue is not soon remedied, I will take matters into my own hands and exact my revenge. With the holidays around the corner, I am planning to buy a really big ham. I will serve it in the dining room packed with an illicit party of eight. And when the dishes are cleared, I will move to the living room, raise the fallboard and play the “Moonlight Sonata” on my baby grand piano loud.

But if anyone complains, I know I will do the right thing, because that’s just the kind of neighbor I am. I will sell the dining room set. I will give away the piano. And I will make room for something more suitable for co-op living: I think a squash court might just fit.   

Jules Barrueco is an attorney in New York City currently working in the insurance industry. Her writing has been published by the Avalon Literary Review