Q. The floor of our co-op garage is sinking, and needs to be repaired. Not only are sewage pipes below, but so are gas lines. No contractor wants to come here to fix the floor as they are afraid of an explosion. What legal entity do I contact, as the board is not doing anything?
—I’ve Got a Sinking Feeling
A. Leni Morrison Cummins, shareholder at New York law firm Cozen O’Connor, says, “The board of directors of your co-op is obligated to repair and maintain the building systems pursuant to the co-op’s proprietary lease and New York City and New York State law. Under most proprietary leases, the co-op is responsible for repairs to the building systems and structure. Therefore, as a lessee under the proprietary lease, you have the right to compel your board of directors to maintain and repair the sinking garage and do what is necessary to protect the sewage pipes and gas lines.
“The New York City Housing Maintenance Code sets forth minimum standards of health, safety, repair, and maintenance, and specifically requires owners of multiple dwellings to keep the premises in good repair. Co-op boards (with three or more units) are considered owners under the statute. Additionally, the New York City Building Code has standards for safety that may be in violation. Therefore, if the conditions are unsafe, the City will take action to compel your board of directors to repair.
“Additionally, the board is considered your legal landlord and therefore owes you and the other lessees of the co-op a warranty of habitability. New York Real Property Law Section 235-B provides an automatic covenant that the landlord owes all residents premises that are fit for human habitation, and not subject to any conditions which would be dangerous, hazardous, or detrimental to their life, health, or safety. If your apartment is truly unsafe, it is possible that the board is in breach of the warranty of habitability.
“I recommend that you first approach your board in a more formal capacity and send a written demand notifying the board of the unsafe condition and demanding that the board, if it hasn’t done so already, retain a licensed architect and engineer to inspect the garage and underlying utilities. If the conditions are unsafe, the architect or engineer will be obligated to notify the Department of Buildings of the unsafe condition, which will in turn force your board to take measures to safeguard the co-op. If that doesn’t work, then you can call 311 and request that the City send out inspectors. Lastly, if necessary, as a lessee, you have a cause of action under the proprietary lease and can bring the board to court for failing to uphold its obligations under the proprietary lease.”