Not in My Yard When Tensions Flare Over Front Yard Issues

Condos and HOA communities can be a great setting to own a home, enjoy privacy and the comforts of your own personal space. But, there will always be tension between the desire to make your unit your own, and adhering to the rules of the community for the greater good, which is usually peaceful coexistence and healthy property values.

One of the great examples of this conflict is outside space. Balconies, lawns, terraces, and backyards—these are the places where people are still in their homes, and also in a common area because they can all be seen by neighbors. Gardens, pools, and decorations—they reflect the appearance of the entire community but they are an owner's private property as well. Unit owners, property managers and their attorneys need to navigate rules and stipulations that affect these areas with special care because of that inherent conflict of interest.

Limited Common Elements

To some people, a lawn or balcony might sound pretty uncontroversial. But, then again, everyone's seen how some people can go to extremes to personalize their outside spaces. The main interest of condos and co-ops is to keep visible areas uniform and clean, and they tend to have the right to control the use and look of outside structures like balconies, backyards and lawns. Since balconies and decks are technically common areas, albeit for exclusive use by a particular owner, their maintenance is usually the responsibility of the association. This gives boards all the more incentive to make sure the materials aren’t meddled with.

“If you have exclusive use of a deck, or a terrace, there might be rules and regulations, which relate to the type of surface you can put down,” says Steven R. Ganfer, a partner at the law firm of Ganfer & Shore in Manhattan. “There might be rules and regulations relating to what you can plant on it. You, normally, have an obligation to maintain it. So it's your obligation to maintain the surface free of snow or ice, and not to do anything to the surface, which causes a problem with the surface. You are, normally, not obligated to do structural repairs to the areas,” he says.

Many people buy homes with the ideal in mind that a person's or family's home is their castle, their safe haven. Obviously, a condo unit can act as just that, but at the same time, a condo unit is not the same as a traditional single-family home. Often, people don't truly appreciate the difference when they buy into a condo building or HOA. This may especially be true in the suburbs, where single family homes are the norm. In New York City, the tradition of co-op buildings makes this less of a problem. Residents are much more likely to appreciate the idea that they don’t have total control of their exclusive common areas.


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  • You talk about the shareholders, what about the coop's landscaping blocking windows of the appartment. My coop plants trees right in front of the livingroom and kitchen window which blocks you view looking out. In some areas you cannot even look out the window from side to side, the trees frame the window. What can the share holder do about the trees blocking their view to look out the window?
  • If a unit owner wants to permanently enclose their exclusive use limited common element (terrace or balcony), is the Board allowed to charge a fee for the right to construct this enclosure and thus increase effectively the unit size? If so, how much can the Board legally charge?