Organizing a diverse group of tenants into a strong association able to purchase a multi-million-dollar apartment building is no simple task. Ann Garfinkle, who has probably been involved in more tenant struggles than any other attorney in the city, has this advice:

Work together toward the goal. "The biggest mistake tenant groups make is fighting among themselves."

Organize early. "Before the landlord gives notice that it's up for sale."

Poll the tenants. Determine those interested in buying and their assets. Don't be discouraged if salaries seem low. One project succeeded where tenants had an average income of $12,000.

Leaders of the Bon Wit Tenants Association, recent purchasers of their building, list these additional elements.

Leadership flexibility.

"The guy in the top hat in the middle of the ring had no whip in this circus," sayd BWTA president Walter McCabe, a 51-year-old Foreign Service officer who presided diplomatically over potentially explosive meetings. "The element we have which I think permitted us to win the fight was the flexibility to seek talent and accept it on its terms, with no rigid hierarchy."

Attention to detail.

A "professional nit-picker for years," retired chemist Bob Taylor kept thorough notes and records of all meetings, discussions and deposits, from the first rumblings to the final purchase.

As one tenant notes, "Without his checking and double-checking we never would have pulled it off."


Working for a tenants association is like holding another job. One board member says both her personal life and her job performance suffered. You can't be a quitter or tire easily.