New York's co-op apartment system and the ability of the boards which administer it to humiliate prospective owners and dictate what happens in a building have long been notorious. But rarely has it gained as much attention as in recent weeks, thanks to a pair of red-tailed hawks, media baron Rupert Murdoch and a new play. Most of Manhattan's private housing stock falls under this kind of ownership, through which a buyer does not actually own an apartment but instead acquires shares in the building. All the shareholders pay a monthly charge for repairs, heating, the overall property's mortgage, staff, and other services. When a board functions openly, fairly and without prejudice, the system is a good one, enabling owners to retain some kind of control over their environment. The only problem is that such harmony rarely exists. My boyfriend bought a co-op apartment 16 months ago but has yet to be invited to a meeting, let alone vote in an election of officers. He should, of course, feel grateful that the board accepted him at all. In his new play, The Right Kind of People, actor-writer Charles Grodin depicts the dealings of the board at a pricey Manhattan co-op. Prospective buyers can be rejected for just about any reason - they made their money too quickly, they do not dress well enough, their second wives are too young, their dogs are too big (note that pets often have to attend the interview, too). Many New Yorkers would agree that Grodin, who based his play on his own experience, is not exaggerating. In some buildings, smokers are now routinely turned down. Many pop stars, actors and fashion designers have been rejected for co-op applications, including Madonna. One delicious aspect of the system is that even Mr Murdoch, who is poised to pay a record US$44 million for an apartment on Fifth Avenue, is expected to face the ritual, including an interview and questions about many details of his life, both personal and financial. The hawks, meanwhile, have battled back against co-op-board tyranny, and become celebrities in the process. Early this month, the co-op board of the building where they had lived for more than 10 years decided to remove their nest, arguing that birdwatchers were destroying owners' privacy and the carcasses of rats and pigeons were being dropped by the birds. The resulting outcry and media coverage forced the co-op into agreeing to have the hawks back. Mind you, the birds could have the last laugh - they may decide to go elsewhere, and draw blood from another board. Without an interview, of course.