Q&A: A Room Without a View

Q. I live on a second floor of a co-op condo. We would like to replace the current front windows with impact windows. The current old windows have a metal criss-cross ‘cathedral’ type design, and we would like to eliminate it. It looks old, it’s more expensive and difficult to keep clean, and we would like something more modern. The president of the board told us that it can’t be done the way we want it, but there is nothing written down in our rules and regulations about changing windows. Can we go ahead and update the windows in our unit? 

                     —Wanting New Windows

A. “Before undertaking to replace the exterior windows,” says Slava Hazin, partner at New York law firm Warshaw Burstein, “you should review not only the rules and regulations, but also the proprietary lease (if you live in a cooperative), or the bylaws and declaration (if you live in a condominium). Those documents should set forth who is responsible for replacing the building’s windows. You should also check to see if your building has been designated as a landmark. If so, the exterior windows cannot be altered without first going through and obtaining the permission of the Landmarks Preservation Commission. 

“Whether you live in a cooperative or a condominium, to replace the exterior windows, you will need to request and obtain board approval, and it appears that if a formal application were made, it would be denied. The board’s decision would be protected by the Business Judgment Rule, because replacing the exterior windows would drastically change the look and feel and esthetic of the building and its facade. There are also serious liability and insurance issues to consider. What if the windows are not properly installed and someone gets injured as a result? What if they leak? Would the new windows be covered by your homeowners policy or the building’s liability policy? For all of these reasons, I would strongly caution you not to replace the windows.”

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  • I agree with the advice given, but I would also suggest that the condo owner request the Board to direct him/her to the passages in the condo documents or any written Board policies that apply to this situation. As a Director of a building that is designated as a contributing structure in a landmark district, there is no way that this sort of change affecting the facade could be made in our building. However, even before the landmark district designation, our Board would not have permitted a change that alters the uniformity of the appearance of the facade in such a material way. If the owner wished to replace the existing window with one with identical appearance, we would approve it, subject to many conditions (materials, installation method, review by architect, etc.)