2007-01-26 / Editorial/Opinion


The Need For Privacy Versus The Right To Know

Very often, the issues faced by the community are not black or white, but rather shades of gray, a question of two competing rights that both have merit. Such is the case with the City Council's Intro 119, a proposed bill that would mandate co-operative boards to provide to an applicant within five days the reason that he or she has been turned down for the purchase of a cooperative apartment or home. On the face of it, the new law will ameliorate the problem of racism in the co-op market. Those who are pushing the bill say that there will be less discrimination if the co-op board has to tell a denied applicant the reasons for the turndown. They say that the new bill will provide those who were turned down a basis for a lawsuit should the turn-down be discriminatory. And, that's one of the points that co-op boards dislike most about the proposed law. Steve Greenberg, the president of the Breezy Point cooperative says that the new law will cause a spate of lawsuits against co-op boards that will be costly to fight. While a proponent of the law likened the application process as akin to an application for a department store credit card, where an applicant who is refused has the right to the reasons in writing in a timely fashion, Norman Silverman, the president of the Shoreview Co-op in Bayswater, says that the process is more like a parent who is meeting his son's friend for the first time. "Board members must decide if they want the applicant to live in the apartment above them," Silverman says in a letter to the editor. "Will they dispose of their garbage and recycling properly, play loud music and will they be able to pay their monthly carrying charges." Silverman says that forcing the board to put the reasons why an applicant is rejected can only cause pain to the applicant and open the board to lawsuits. He argues that the board has a need for privacy in deciding whether or not a person could become a neighbor. Proponents of the bill say that the privacy Silverman seeks often leads to discrimination, and that the process needs to be opened to the light of day. We agree. A person who is turned down for a slot in a co-op has the right to know why. If there is no discrimination involved, then the co-op board should be able to provide a letter within five days detailing those reasons. That is not an onerous task and the people who are rejected have the right to know why, regardless of how painful that information might be.

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