How One Manhattan Co-op Copes with Coronavirus

Managing an apartment complex means stocking up on disinfectants, ramping up the cleaning schedule and urging residents to stop chatting with the doormen.

Credit…Karsten Moran for The New York Times



Until early March, Harry Konjuvca, the resident manager of a prewar co-op in the East 50s, had never heard of Zep.

But that was pre-coronavirus. Now, Mr. Konjuvca is very familiar with Zep, a line of heavy-duty cleaning products. He and his staff pour out the lemon-scented liquid disinfectant several times a day to treat the floors, the compactor rooms and other surfaces that were once bathed with standard commercial suds.

“We’re using it proactively,” said Mr. Konjuvca, who has also quadrupled his monthly order of Lysol Spray and Clorox disinfecting wipes, and quintupled his order of latex gloves. “Doormen, porters, every staff member has to wear gloves for every moment of their shift.”


New York City residents are adapting to a new world — and so are their residences. Mr. Konjuvca’s multibuilding complex is just one example.

Credit…Harry Konjuvca

Here, as in many other buildings, the doormen in this complex of more than 400 units have new mandatory accessories for their uniforms (masks and gloves), and new responsibilities. These include making sure that theirs are the only hands that touch the doorknobs of the buildings’ front doors, and that delivery people stay outside. To help ensure success, “the doorman are staying closer to the entrances than they would normally,” Mr. Konjuvca said.


One of the tasks on his ever-expanding to-do list is laying down carefully spaced strips of tape around the doorman’s station to help people maintain their social distance. Frankly, he’s hoping it won’t be necessary, “but we still have people who are coming downstairs to chitchat with the doormen. We’ve sent notes asking them to stop,” said Mr. Konjuvca, who, however, doesn’t have to be an elevator policeman. The shareholders have been extremely conscientious about limiting the number of passengers.

Credit…Hiroko Masuike/The New York Times

And here, as elsewhere, the co-op board, which typically meets once a month, is now teleconferencing almost daily, said the board’s president Steven R. Wagner, a real estate lawyer: “Things are changing so quickly we have to stay on top of things,” he added.


The board’s coronavirus preparedness strictures lined up with recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — social distancing, frequent hand-washing, cough and sneeze into your elbow, please. As the coronavirus figures began spiking, there were new protocols put into place, among them, halting renovations of any sort.

When a doorman recently reported that he wasn’t feeling well, the co-op’s management company went through the building’s video feed to pinpoint and contact the 40 or so residents who had recently interacted with him. Fortunately, his coronavirus test came back negative; contingency plans are being developed in the event that employees become ill or can’t make it to work because of more stringent shelter in place directives.

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There was a rather knotty item on the agenda during one co-op board conference call: whether to make it known if there was a confirmed case of Covid-19 among the shareholders. “We discussed whether we could or should disclose the floor or the particular building,” Mr. Wagner recalled. “We weren’t restricted by the HIPAA rules of confidentiality but a lot of people were saying no,” he said in reference to health care privacy guidelines.

Finally, the board members decided simply to encourage anyone with the virus to let them know about it. They also advised shareholders to act as though they had the virus and to treat their fellow residents as though they were similarly afflicted. “Act as if you have it and your neighbor has it,” Mr. Wagner said.

“Of course, you can’t keep that kind of thing a secret.”

He should know. His wife, Barbara Wagner, a public relations executive, tested positive for Covid 19 in mid-March; she was the first known case in the complex. The couple immediately told two of the six neighbors on their floor, and some other friends elsewhere in the co-op. Word quickly spread.

To help insure that the virus didn’t spread, too, the management company brought in a firm to disinfect the lobby, the elevator, the staff’s break room and locker room among other areas.

The demand for the deep-cleaning procedure is skyrocketing. “Before March 1, we had never done it,” said Jeffrey Gross, the chief operating officer of Maxons, a property damage restoration firm (but not the one used by the Wagners’ co-op) “Since March 1, we’ve done 200, the majority in residential buildings.” Fees start at $5,000.


“And now,” Mr. Wagner said, “the issue is how often do we do the deep cleaning. We want people to feel safe and secure but is it worthwhile for us to repeat the procedure the next time a resident comes into the building who might have been exposed to the virus? Do we do it again and again. We’re batting it back and forth,” Mr. Wagner continued. “Cost comes into it.”

With that goal of safety and security in mind, the board recently amended the coop’s house rules to include coronavirus protocols including those related to quarantine. They can be enforced through the proprietary lease.” Some law firms are urging their co-op and condo clients to take noncompliant neighbors to court. “But I think that turning to the courts at a time like this is worse than breaking quarantine,” said Mr. Wagner, who favors a strongly worded letter — if you don’t comply we will exercise our right to evict you. “That’s generally been enough to stop such behavior,” he said.

Ms. Wagner — recovering but still quarantined — has had oranges, juice and bowls of rice left outside her door daily by a parade of neighbors. (Mr. Wagner, who has a lung condition and is thus especially vulnerable, is quarantined in a hotel.) Another neighbor bathed the family dog and sprayed its leash with Clorox. “I’m grateful that no one is making me feel like a leper. I’m comforted by not feeling alone,” Ms. Wagner said.

“People are texting me. My boyfriend from college is texting me. I feel as though I’m in ‘It’s a Wonderful Life.’ ”










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