Alteration Agreements Going By the Book

Peter and Sarah have three boys, all under the age of six. While that fact sinks in, consider this: all three boys shared a single bedroom in the family’s modest, two-bedroom condo.  When the tots were small, this set-up worked well, and Peter and Sarah enjoyed their bedroom to themselves, just down the hall. But once their eldest son turned six, things changed. 

“It was like the flip of a switch, he just sort of got cramped. He couldn’t articulate the problem, but we knew he needed a place for himself, somewhere he would have space for his books and just a little more breathing room,” says Sarah. So, Peter and Sarah did the truly selfless thing: they let the big brother move into their room, and they moved their room into the office off the living room. There was plenty of square footage in the office, and the room actually gets more light in the mornings. The problem? No doors. “Yeah, we are going to have to figure that out,” saidys Peter. “I won’t be okay with temporary doors,” said Sarah. “We’ll have to install pocket doors, it looks like, because the room doesn’t allow for regular doors, and they can’t hinge out because there isn’t enough room for them to open.” 

The Challenge of Change

Peter and Sarah’s challenge is change, and change, as they say, is inevitable. At some point, every board will have to deal with a shareholder or unit owner’s request to remodel or redesign their space. Maybe it’s a new owner who is super into feng shui and needs to rearrange things to better facilitate a positive flow of chi. Maybe an owner has purchased the neighboring unit and intends to knock down a couple of walls to make one big super-unit. Or maybe an owner is like Peter and Sarah: their family has grown and changed, and their space needs to change with them. 

While these modifications and alterations are being considered by the resident, condo boards and homeowner associations must consider what those changes mean to the building as a whole, how alterations should be regulated and structured, and how they may impact other residents. 

Rather than waiting until an owner comes asking, legal and management pros strongly advise putting into place a policy in your association’s rules and regulations that will protect your building and also help guide residents as they navigate what walls to – or not to —knock down. Kelly C. Elmore, principal attorney at Kovitz Shifrin Nesbit in Chicago, suggests a construction policy or alteration agreement that spells out the procedure for any owner who wants to undertake construction or a modification project in their unit. 

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