Aesthetic Rules in Co-ops, Condos & HOAs A Matter of Taste?

For many people, one of the most attractive aspects of co-op or condo living is the fact that everything, from the windows to the elevators to the numbers on the apartment doors, looks great; clean, bright, elegant and well-maintained. For residents, visitors, and prospective buyers alike, it is easy to see how much time and talent went into bringing aesthetic cohesion to these buildings and communities. 

While design continuity and standards certainly contribute to the value and overall aesthetic of a community, the other – perhaps less popular – ingredient in this mix are the rules and regulations that establish each building’s look and feel and remain in place to ensure that nothing ever changes – at least not without a whole lot of approvals from committee members and fellow residents. 

Co-ops, condos and associations establish and adhere to these rules for the very simple reason that they establish the look and feel of the building or community and – perhaps most importantly – help sustain and eventually increase the property value over time. Generally speaking, residents and shareholders are okay with sticking to their building or association’s aesthetic template. There are times, though, when a person wants something a little different, and may be tempted to see just how far those rules will bend. 

Letters of the Law

For the most part, the rules guiding the look and feel of a co-op or condo community are meant to cover elements that are visible to all residents and visitors. “Most boards don’t try to influence anything within individual apartments,” says Lisa Smith, an attorney with the New York office of Smith Gambrell & Russell LLP. “Within the four walls of your apartment, if you wanted to paint everything purple, the co-op or condo board won’t say anything. Your neighbors might comment, but it’s your space.” 

That changes when people step outside their front doors. That purple interior is fine, “As long as the outside is consistent with the rest of the building,” Smith says, but points out that ‘outside’ can sometimes be interpreted to include elements such as window treatments that, while physically inside an individual unit, might face out onto the street and be visible to passersby. If everyone’s curtains or blinds are white, it will disrupt the aesthetic if someone suddenly installs a cherry red window shade, or hangs a neon bar sign in their window. Before too long, that decision would likely earn the shade- or sign-hanger a call from management or a board member. 

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