Big Brother, Where Art Thou?

Amit Baria
6 min readMay 10, 2018

Raise your hand if you’ve ever found a homeless couple living in your building’s elevator room.

Haven’t even adjusted in your seat, have you? Didn’t think so.

Hold on, maybe you’ve had a conversation like this before…

Police Officer: Where are the security cameras?
Me: We don’t have any.
Police Officer: What do you mean you don’t have any?
Me: I mean the building’s board doesn’t think they are necessary.
Police Officer: It’s 2018. Get some cameras.

You haven’t? I have. Several times this year actually.

One of the ‘benefits’ of owning in a condominium building is the ever so powerful Home Owner’s Association (HOA), governed by a ‘Condo Board’. This particular HOA is comprised of diverse board, half progressive and half resistant to change, governing over several dozen homeowners. Owners are also a diverse makeup — 60% female, 40% male, 15% over age 60, 25% over age 50, 60% under age 40.

Breakdown of the HOA

Framing the Shot

For context, I’ve lived here for 10 years and have been requesting a surveillance system be installed in the building for 5 years now, way before activity up-ticked. Our property manager had agreed. He suggested it. I pushed for it. The board, an old regime at the time, struck it down unanimously as unnecessary, and it failed to get rallied support from owners.

As Jersey City became the ‘hip’ place to live outside of NYC, the makeup of the building has gotten younger over the last 5 years, many with newborns and progressive mindsets where safety is a concern.

While crime has generally deceased in the area, over the past year package theft has occurred multiple times, a bike was stolen, and our UPS key stolen to access the building, all within the past year. Only a month ago, noticing suspicious behavior on the inactive side of the building, I did indeed discover a homeless couple who broke into our elevator service room and had been living there during the winter.

The Lens is Still On

The board has become more progressive however the President, Jim, is of the old regime who has recruited Sandy to join as VP. With new ownership not wanting to rock the boat or simply not get involved, the board still does not accurately represent the majority views of the building’s owners.

A camera security system, even after all of the recent breaches, was voted down.

Getting the Project Green Lit

While the HOA as a whole votes on major decisions once per year, the board can vote on items throughout the year. Three votes are needed for a decision.

Jim’s Worldview

  • Longtime resident and board member; has held position for over 8 years
  • Recently divorced, 52-year-old male, no kids
  • Freelance accountant works from home
  • Does not seem happy with new tenants moving in
  • Poor relationship with building tenants, overall
  • Votes almost anything down that isn’t a repair

Sandy’s Worldview

  • Longtime resident, newer board member
  • Single, 45-year-old unmarried female, no kids
  • Temp admin professional in NY
  • Speak progressively in open forum but voting inconsistent

Henry’s Worldview

  • Owner and board member for less than a year
  • Male, 32-year-old married father of a newborn
  • Progressive tech professional
  • Wants to implement technology, efficiency, communication to the building
  • As the newcomer does not want to stir the pot too much
  • Tends to vote against the status quo

Trisha’s Worldview

  • Her Father built the building 30 years ago, newer board member
  • Open minded, leans progressive, has building best interest in mind
  • Has history with John and Neela and older residents
  • Single, divorced female, 48 years old
  • Emotional connection to the building, her Father’s legacy
  • Nancy tends to be an open thinker, has influence, but vote can be swayed but avoids friction

Hank’s Worldview

  • Longtime owner and board member, rents his unit out
  • Busy 50-year-old male professional with 2 kids, wants this role to be easy, therefore remains
  • Passive, defers to John and Neela for decision making, votes along with
  • Not a resident, therefore little concern for building safety
  • As treasurer, concerned with budget — any unnecessary expense is voted against
  • Believes building is sufficient, safety not a critical concern

The board is notorious for stalling. Kicking issues down the road until they become a blatant problem. When action is taken, it’s usually too late.

How was the Decision Made?

After speaking with the police about our uninvited guests, the police were called. My role has usually been to spark action and be a voice for longtime ownership who all support the install of cameras. This time they lobbied around the issue and became vocal. Henry and Trisha were on board. Hank and Sandy showed concern. Jim…crickets.

To our surprise, the motion lost by a vote of 3–2 against.

It’s with Jim that decisions go to die. Jim influenced Sandy and Hank.

But there were squatters living in the building!

Safety should be a top concern, one’s own and those around them, especially family and neighbors.

Although…we are all irrational.

What’s important to the thinly spread, young, working professional mother who just spent a small fortune on a new condo is not necessarily important to the hardened, semi-retired, lonely, longtime resident who holds a thankless job as condo president and has witnessed real crime in a city that has dramatically changed in front of his eyes.

If empathy between the two were established, what would be different?

Perhaps, the one thing Jim has control of in his life, is the board. With so much change occurring in his life, this is the one role that remains certain, where he has power. The only outcome he can control.

Jim hardly interacts with neighbors living in the building. He interacts with the other board members and property manager. All owners and tenants must technically communicate to the board via the property manager with the exception of the annual owners meeting where major issues are discussed and voted on. Jim’s silence building wide was intentional.

By not addressing the urgent matter to the building (even though other members discussed it in neighborly conversations), it then became a board item instead of a building community item. Leverage indeed, if Jim engaged, he then must listen and attempt to be empathetic and reasonable.

Is Jim approachable?

Yes, but not entirely. At least not by fresh faces.

Is he capable of saying YES?


If establishing an empathy connection is the key to getting to yes, it won’t happen between Jim and the young Mother directly, but…

Trisha could sway him.

She is already enrolled into revamping safety. She shares a strong history with the building itself as well as 25 years of being Jim’s neighbor. They also share commonalities in their personal life. Trisha has an open mind when it comes to progressive issues and concerns in the building.

If the pro-security group built a stronger empathetic connection with Trisha, putting her in a confident position to enroll Jim or Sandy, perhaps she would have influenced the board vote in favor.

Trisha is our bridge to an empathy connection.