Q&A: Terrace Terror

Q I live in a two-building co-op in the Riverdale section of the Bronx. Our board has undertaken the renovation of the terraces of both buildings, and the renovation requires any shareholders, who built enclosures around their terraces to dismantle them before the repairs can begin.

With the exception of three shareholders in my building, everyone has complied with this requirement. Unfortunately for me, one of the non-cooperating cooperators lives in the apartment below mine. The co-op has gone to court to compel him to remove his terrace enclosure, but so far the case is moving very slowly and the board has not been keeping me informed as to if and when his enclosure will be coming down. Until it does, no work can be done on my terrace.

I am planning to go ahead and hire my own contractor to renovate my terrace. The work I need done involves removing the concrete from the steel beams that form the outside shape of the terrace and fixing the concrete of the roof and floor of the terrace. The contractor I hire will only be fixing and waterproofing the roof and floor; he will not touch the outside surrounding concrete. I will be paying him out of pocket.

I have written my board twice and have called the co-op attorney and managing agent twice each. I received one letter from the manager informing me that they will “try to keep me in the loop” but nothing more substantive than that. I recently put a letter under the board president’s door informing him that I plan to hire my own contractor before the end of the month.

Am I within my rights in going ahead and hiring a contractor to do this work? Is there anything more I can do to ensure that I can use my terrace next season?

— Bronx Shareholder

A According to Michael S. Horwitz of the Manhattan-based law firm of Horwitz & Zim Law Group, P.C., “Generally all proprietary leases explicitly obligate the Lessor, the coop, to maintain the common elements of the building. The common elements of the building necessarily include the exterior of the building, its roofs, walls, balconies and terraces. Despite the delays, and your frustration, you individually cannot undertake these types of repairs without the consent of the Board of Directors of your building.

“Not only is the Lessor charged with the responsibility to maintain the exterior of the building under the proprietary lease but it is compelled to maintain the exterior of the building in conformity with all existing laws, building codes and health and safety regulations. The cooperative and possibly the individual members of the board of directors may be held civilly and or criminally liable for the failure to assure the safety of its residents.

“In particular, Local Law 10 and 11, New York City, N.Y., Rules Title 1, §32-03, require the building owner, the cooperative, to periodically evaluate the exterior walls and appurtenant structures to determine if they are in a safe condition or require maintenance or repair. It appears that the extensive work currently being done on your building’s terraces relate to the exterior walls of the building and “appurtenant” structures, i.e., the balconies and terraces.

“From what you relate, the cooperative seems to be diligent in undertaking the necessary maintenance and repair work. It is unfortunate however that the tenant-shareholder below you is frustrating these efforts by not removing the terrace enclosure.

“Most, if not all, proprietary leases strictly prohibit a tenant-shareholder from making any structural alterations either to their apartments or to any appurtenant roofs, terraces or balconies without the prior consent of the board of directors. As long as the board of directors has acted, and continues to act, reasonably and responsibly in discharging their duty there is little that you can do if the board does not exercise its discretion to permit you to proceed on your own.”

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