Whose Place Is This Anyway? Owners Rights in Residential Communities

People like to think that they can do anything they darn well please within their own walls so long as no laws are being broken. Want to paint your walls purple and your ceilings green? Who’s gonna stop you? In the mood for loud music and a long evening of cigar smoking? It’s no one’s business but your own. Or is it?

One of the realities of living in a condo or a co-op is that there are limitations on what homeowners can do to, and in, their apartments. The reasons are pretty obvious. First, it’s more likely that the playing of your Metallica CDs at top volume will bother neighbors who live on the other side of the wall as opposed to the house next door. Second, one of the primary duties of a condo or co-op board is to keep apartment values high. As a result, limitations can be placed in regards to repairs, renovations, noise, odors and other areas.

Got Rules?

Just what those limitations are is stated in each building’s governing documents. For most co-ops, the house rules are usually stated in a proprietary lease; in condos, they’re found in the building’s bylaws.

“The basic foundation for a shareholder’s conduct is outlined in the house rules,” says Alex Kuffel of Pride Management in Manhattan. “Beyond that, regarding alterations, there are separate polices that may be addressed in the house rules that require different documentations. For example, you have alteration policies (and) sublet policies, which would be (added as) riders to your house rules.”

The problem can be that owners and shareholders don’t know what’s in their building’s documents. One example regards the subleasing of apartments. Condos are starting to stipulate that subleases last at least a year. Before that, some owners treated apartments like a hotel room, renting it for months or weeks at a time, making the building feel more transient. “Condos are becoming more creative in designing their house rules, almost to mirror a co-op.”


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  • What if the co-ops rules don't specifcally ban smoking? If the smoke seeps into your apartment do you have any rights or recourse?
  • Geraldine: Yes, your proprietary lease and/or house rules probably prohibit shareholders/residents from allowing any noxious odors to enter other apartments or public areas. That is enough to allow you to seek recourse by writing to the Board and to the offending shareholder/resident.
  • Check your local Health Dept. @ City Hall for local laws regarding seepage of smoke into your unit. They have enforcing powers in some cities. good luck!
  • The Board has just implemented a new ban on smoking. However, they have indicated that those shareholders who smoke and were shareholders prior to the effective date will still be allowed to smoke in their own units, but not on the terrace. We bought our unit with a terrace for the sole purpose of being able to smoke out on our terrace and not inside our unit. Does the board need a majority shareholder vote to implement such a house rule? Is this ban on smoking on one's own terrace enforceable?
  • Our GC had to change the drainage affecting our unit to meet code, installing fire stops and correcting reverse drainage. This only affects our unit. He said this is allowed by our permitt. The board is furious. We have a condo nazi. All has past code inspections. What can they do.
  • Are there condos that restrict the amount of time and duration on very loud renovations going on in units? And, are there condos that have fewer hours/days for these loud renovations? Do any block Saturday from loud renovations?
  • I recently closed on my coop unit (9/11/12) and the shareholder below me smokes like a chimney. I spoke with him and told him that it is seeping into my unit. & he started to use an air purifier (at times). I also purchased an air purifier and i will need to purchase at least one more (an expense that i am quite angry about). MY issue also stems to the Board/salesperson who is on the premises of the coop. I asked him prior to my signing anything and before any down payment if smoke seeps into the other units because i have asthma which has put me in the hospital in the past. It is unhealthy for anyone to be around second hand smoke but especially since i stated my health issues and concern....basically i was swindled into this apartment because after the sales broker (again whose company deals solely with this coop) assured me that the smoke doesn't leak in, i asked him that if it does then please steer me towards another unit....but here i am signed, closed and too broke to collect enough $$ to start putting another down payment anywhere....so now what can i do???? I feel stuck and to merely be told 'oh, that's too bad.... just sell' is not an option at this moment..... Please someone offer me some guidance. I appreciate it.
  • We've all had to learn the hard way. There is absolutely no accountability in the condo game. I live below noisy, self absorbed neighbours who have broken every single bylaw and not a damn thing is being done about it. They have ignored warnings, fines and won't answer when police visit. They smoke inside and outside the building despite a ban, take other peoples parking spots, have crowds of people over on a daily basis, blast music and all property management can do is send a letter, which causes more retaliation. Condo's are a complete sham!
  • so my co-op rules state no loud noise past 10pm. I was plaing music at 7:30pm and a board memeber knocks on my door stating that i should be considerate to my neighbors because they may have wierd work schedules. she said that was my verbal warning that the next will be a written warning. Is that possible. I was within the timeline to make noise in my apartent.... please tell me i could go know on her door and tell her to go fuck herself. because not knowing my rights i bitched up. :) thanks....
  • rudy...how loud are you being. Just because it's within limits, doesn't mean it can be so loud as to really cause disturbance to others. For instance, if they have their TV or music on and can hear yours over theirs, then it's too loud. You can't just make noise in your apt, even during quiet hours, It has to be somewhat reasonable. Your attitude doesn't exactly sound neighborly, sorry, but I don't just go teling people to F*** themselves. Believe me, I live in a condo, and I know the drill. Thank God I have fairly reasonable neighbors, and in general, we have a pretty good record on noise, I thank my lucky stars. Good luck. Just try not to overreact. It only makes things worse. Try and work sometihng out. Probably by now, it's settled, I hope!
  • Is a Condo Board allowed to charge a huge fee for the right to enclose a unit owner's limited common element? Our Board wants to charge us a six figure price for the right to convert our terrace into a sunroom. Is this legal? Normal?