You worked hard to buy your co-op. You’ve agreed to their rules. But does this mean you don’t have any co-op tenant rights?
We strongly disagree.
There are plenty of NYC laws and guidelines that protect you as a tenant. But this doesn’t mean you won’t run into problems now and again. Learn your rights and what you can do when you think they’re not being honored.
What determines your rights?
The rules of your co-op are derived by three types of legalities. First is your proprietary lease, followed by the by-laws of the building. Finally, local, state, and federal laws protect you from illegal leases or by-laws. Together, these three legal arenas balance each other out and create a fair living experience for you and everyone else in your building.
Your proprietary lease is provided to you when you buy your co-op. It establishes the terms in which you abide by in your building, including maintenance fees, pet allowances, and other terms that differ from building to building.
The co-op’s by-laws outline the relationship between the board and unit owners. This defines the board’s powers and responsibilities, including who can serve on the board, how members are elected, and how owners can request information.
State and local laws
Finally, local laws, including state and federal, are the final say in co-op living laws. If either a proprietary lease or by-law contradicts a state or federal law, it is not legally binding.
Common questions regarding co-op tenant rights
We’ve put together a short list of some of the most common questions regarding co-op tenant rights. Explore them to see if your building is infringing on your tenant rights.
Am I responsible for all building and unit maintenance?
The co-op itself is responsible for maintaining sidewalks, equipment, and essentially the apartments. But here’s where it gets a bit fuzzy. As a shareholder, you’re responsible for the interior of your unit. This includes the walls, ceilings, windows, floors, frames, and so on.
You are also responsible for any painting and decorating along with maintaining, repairing, and replacing plumbing, gas and heating fixtures, refrigerators, dishwashers, air conditioners, washing machines, dryers, stoves, and any other appliances.
However, the co-op building is responsible for any gas, steam, water, or other pipes within the walls, ceilings, or floors.
Are there temperature regulations the building is required to abide by?
Is it freezing in common places during the winter and boiling during the summer? Unfortunately, there are no laws that require your co-op to install air conditioning or use an existing unit in communal areas.
The rules change when it comes to heat though. Co-op units are protected by the warranty of habitability, which guarantees the right to a livable, safe, and sanitary apartment. This warranty also covers communal areas. Therefore, shared areas should be adequately heated when necessary.
Can a neighbor be evicted?
One false pretense that co-op unit owners are under is that they cannot be evicted from their units (or cannot evict unruly neighbors). But the process is possible. Someone can’t be evicted simply because the co-op board “doesn’t like them” but if they are disruptive, unable to abide by the building’s rules, or are breaking federal laws, an eviction process can move forward.
If your situation has been exhausted and you’d like to explore having an unruly shareholder evicted, there are three things you’ll need. First is precedent. You’ll need reasoning for the eviction, and not just personal disagreements. If they’re putting the building at risk with a bed bug infestation or their excessive cigarette smoking indoors has led to several small fires, there are grounds to pursue eviction. Any incidents will need to be backed up by documentation, such as staff logs, security footage, witnesses, etc. You should officially document any wrongdoing in the building so that if it does come to eviction, you have the paperwork needed.
Finally, you may need to fall back on the Business Judgement Rule which insures that the board does not have to answer to misleading allegations about the way it conducts its’ business if it is not apparent that they, the board of directors, has violated a major rule of conduct. In other words, if an unruly shareholder claims the board has singled them out, their argument will be thrown out if the board has a clean slate.
Can I have pets?
This will depend on your individual co-op rules. If you do find yourself in a pet-friendly building, be prepared for your furry friend to have strict guidelines themselves. Excessive barking will be prohibited, and you’ll most likely have to have your dog on a leash at all times.
As a responsible pet owner, you should confirm your renters insurance policy when it comes to dog bites. Most provide coverage for injuries caused by dogs, but some companies have an exclusion list of certain breeds. Before you put yourself at risk, confirm that your dog is covered, especially before bringing them into an unfamiliar environment.
Cats are usually allowed in pet-friendly buildings. When it comes to smaller or less common pets, speak with the co-op board if your lease isn’t specific.
How can I protect my investment?
Despite not owning the unit you live in, buying into a co-op building is still a financial investment. That’s why you’ll want to look for a co-op unit that you believe you can profit from when selling. But even if you believe you’ve found a diamond in the rough, there are a few situations that can throw you off course.
For example, if you live in a corner unit with plenty of windows or a top floor unit with a killer view, your co-op likely has development rights. This means they can add on to the building, whether it be an addition or additional floors.
If you’re concerned or just simply annoyed with construction that does take place, you might be able to take legal action based on what’s outlined in your proprietary lease. You can claim provisions were violated if your lease is laid out in such a way (for example, a “quiet enjoyment” provision can be claimed as violated during loud construction.) This isn’t a guarantee that you can prevent construction that could lower the value of your unit though.
Can my co-op board require renters insurance?
They can, and this is a blessing in disguise. If you were thinking of forgoing renters insurance, you would have been putting yourself at risk for a financial disaster. Renters insurance covers your individual property in the event of fire, theft, and other circumstances.
For example, if you let your bathtub overflow and the water leaks into the apartment below, you’re legally responsible for the damage caused to your unit and the unit below you. Renters insurance covers this.
Can I have a roommate?
Like so many things, the answer to this all comes down to money. Under what’s commonly referred to in NYC as the “Roommate Law”, you are allowed as a co-op owner one additional occupant in addition to immediate family, as long as you are currently living in the unit at the same time.
Where it gets tricky though is if you’re charging this roommate rent (which you most likely are). If a friend is moving in with you temporarily while they get back on their feet, you are only required to inform the board within 30 days of them moving in.
But if you are charging rent, this could be considered a sublet situation, which is typically not allowed in co-ops. So, the answer will depend on your board. If you’re not profiting from the roommate’s share of the rent, they may allow it. But you might have to fill out paperwork and ask for consent, which can be denied.
Can I make renovations to my unit?
Any renovation work, no matter how minor, requires approval by a co-op board. You will most likely need to sign an alteration agreement and inform the board of every detail of your renovation plan. There may be a fee involved and any worker you hire will need to provide proof of insurance.
At the end of the day, your co-op can refuse approval for renovations and leave you with a unit you’re not happy with. So before buying, always discuss potential renovations in advance.
Just because you live in a co-op doesn’t mean you’re not deserving of tenant rights. While the legal guidelines can get a bit blurry from time to time, the right (and legal) answer is out there. Knowing your rights will ensure they’re never infringed upon.