There are plenty of reasons why a co-op shareholder or condo owner might want to make changes to their unit. Maybe it’s a new owner who wants to do major renovations to make the unit a better fit; perhaps it’s a long-time resident who buys an adjacent unit and wants to knock down some walls to make one big apartment; or an owner could just be sick and tired of his flooring and wants to install something new.
In each of these scenarios, the first step should always be petitioning the board for permission to perform the proposed alterations, but often, residents forge ahead without securing that permission—either because they resent having to consult the board before doing work on their own home, or because they don't want to wait for the board to make a decision. While understandable, this side-stepping of proper protocol can lead to numerous problems.
“In dealing with renovation requests, the board is engaging in a balancing act between the clear benefits of renovation to the risk of the building,” says Bruce Cholst, a partner with the Manhattan-based law firm of Rosen Livingston & Cholst. LLP. “Those risks could include damage, disturbance and the prospect of legal liability.”
Howard L. Zimmerman, AIA, founder and principal of Howard L. Zimmerman Architects, P.C. in Manhattan, says every building should have a proper building alteration agreement in place.
In this document, “The board lays out what has to be filed; what the contractor qualifications are; what the hours of working are; and whether to file with the municipality or not,” says Zimmerman. “There should be house rules regarding the hours when work can be done, whether weekends are included...whether you can cut through walls and what protections are offered.”