Tips & AdviceNYC Co-op Reference Letters Guide & Examples

NYC Co-op Reference Letters Guide & Examples

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After a grueling five-month search, you’ve finally stumbled across the unit of your dreams. The only problem? It’s part of a co-op, and you have no idea how to go about convincing the board that you will make an exceptional member of their co-op community. Thankfully, as long as you have friends and co-workers who are willing to vouch for you in a written statement, co-op ownership may in fact not be far from your reach. 

What Exactly Is a Co-op?

While co-ops make up a large share of the available units in the New York real estate market, those who are new to the city often have no idea what a co-op actually is. Co-ops are cooperatively managed residential buildings whose ownership is determined through the acquisition of shares by its residents. In other words, when you “buy” a co-op apartment, you are not actually purchasing the property itself, but rather buying shares from the corporation that owns the co-op. With the purchase of these shares, you are granted a proprietary lease to inhabit your particular apartment. 

This does not mean that your co-op is some sort of commune: none of the other residents will have access to or rights over your living space. The cooperative ownership aspect basically just means that the people in charge of making decisions about the building—that is, the co-op board—are people who actually live there, rather than an aloof and disinterested landlord. If you want to wiggle your way into a co-op, these are exactly the people you will need to impress. This is where your reference letters will come into play.

Co-op Reference Letter NYC

What Kind of Reference Letters Will I Need?

The exact type of references you’ll be required to provide will vary on a case-by-case basis depending on the specifications of your application package, the details of which will be provided by your co-op board. The more exclusive the co-op, the more letters you can expect to provide. As a rule of thumb, it’s safe to anticipate providing at least one reference letter from your employer and landlord as well as three to six personal and professional references. In some rare cases, you may even be asked to provide a reference letter from your bank.

It’s good form to start requesting reference letters from the people you would like to write them for you as soon as possible to ensure you’re able to submit your entire application in a timely manner. It’s also not a bad idea to request more reference letters than you are likely to actually need, just in case someone fails to turn their letter in on time or inadvertently pens a less-than-helpful recommendation. To help you figure out who to turn to for your letters, we’ve broken down each reference category below.

Personal References

These references can be requested from friends or current neighbors and are intended to speak primarily to your character. It’s generally best to ask people that you’ve known for a long time to write your personal references: for one thing, they will be able to vouch for your good reputation better than anyone else; for another, the co-op board will appreciate knowing that you are able to sustain positive relationships over the long term. It is best not to use family members as a reference, however, (in fact, some co-op boards outright prohibit this), because they can be seen as biased.

Within your personal reference letters, ask your friends to attest to your lifestyle, the content of your character, your engagement with the local community, and your personal habits. For example, it would be excellent for them to mention the generosity and excellent taste you’ve demonstrated on the occasions that you’ve invited them over for dinner, as well as the care with which you maintain your current place of residence. The co-op board will be interested in specific details that back up their descriptions of you, so these kinds of anecdotes make useful evidence. It’s useful for your references to include the circumstances under which you met, exactly how long they’ve known you, the nature of your relationship, and even how you behave when visiting their home (so definitely make a habit of being a courteous guest).

Finally, when selecting personal references, it’s extremely helpful if your friends are co-op owners themselves. If the co-op board sees that your reference is familiar with the ins and outs of the co-op system, their recommendation will carry more weight.

Professional Reference

Much like a personal reference, a professional reference is used by the board to ensure that they are only bringing responsible, levelheaded individuals into their community. Being part of a co-op is not necessarily a lot of work, but it shares certain similarities with a job in that you and a group of other individuals are working toward the common goal of making the co-op a peaceful and positive place to live. As such, the co-op board will require you to provide references from your co-workers to attest to your conduct in the office. 

You should ask these references to offer up insight into your professionalism, diligence, and attitude in the workplace. To this end, it’s best to request your letter from someone who can speak intimately about your working habits. A good bet is a longtime co-worker with whom you’ve collaborated closely on projects or even a mid-level supervisor. 

Employer Reference

Employer references are distinct from professional references in the sense that they do not require specific qualitative feedback on your work performance but are simply used to verify your employment status. As such, they can be requested from your company’s human resources representative rather than directly from your or co-workers. These letters will generally require several crucial pieces of information: your current job title, your annual salary and bonuses, the length of time you have been with the company, and a short statement confirming that you are employed in good standing (which helps reassure the co-op board that you are unlikely to be abruptly fired). 

Landlord Reference

These letters are requested primarily to reassure the co-op board that you will be a courteous resident who is respectful of the building and your fellow tenants. When asking your landlord to write up this letter, be sure to ask that they include the address of the residence you will be vacating, the length of time that you lived there, how much you paid to reside in your former unit, and a confirmation that you paid your rent and bills punctually. If you are moving from one co-op to another, this letter can come from your previous co-op board.

Bank Reference

Only very meticulous (or very expensive) co-op boards will require you to provide a bank reference. You can ask your banking representative to provide this letter, which mainly serves to verify that you are in good financial standing with your bank and that you have a lengthy and trusted relationship with their institution.

General Guidance for Reference Letters

Always have your references include their contact info on the letterhead so that the co-op board can get in touch if they need to verify any details from your application. It’s also wise to request that they proofread their letter thoroughly before sending it in. Ask your friends to avoid including any embarrassing or unflattering stories—it’s awkward for everyone involved when a personal reference gets a little too personal. And, while your co-op board will definitely be interested to hear that you maintain a healthy social life, avoid having your references gush too much about your splendid get-togethers. You don’t want the board to become concerned that you’ll turn out to be a party animal who will provoke noise complaints from the neighbors.

It’s advisable to try and keep all reference letters between three paragraphs and a page and a half in length. A letter that is any shorter makes it seem like your reference either doesn’t know much about you or doesn’t care enough to fully endorse your co-op application, while anything longer can seem overly gushy. Finally, be sure to thank your references for doing you the favor of writing your letters. A bottle of champagne or a free lunch goes a long way toward expressing your appreciation—and may help inspire your references to give you the glowing recommendation you deserve. 

Sophie McIntosh
Sophie McIntosh
Sophie McIntosh is a Brooklyn-based writer and dramaturg hailing from Sun Prairie, Wisconsin. Her plays have been produced by Imaginarium Theatre Company, Platform Production Company, and in the Boston Theater Marathon. Check out more of her work at sophiemcintoshwrites.com!

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