Your roof terrace leaked and the neighbor below you sued for damages. The heating system in your apartment failed to work and the managing agent sent you the bill for its repair. You bought a dog for your child, and six months later the board has demanded that the animal be removed from the building. What are your options in these scenarios?
The answers to questions like these can usually be found in a building’s governing documents. Whether these documents—which include the proprietary lease (in the case of a co-op), the bylaws and the house rules—are filed in your attorney’s office or on-site with your other important papers, they should be reviewed periodically. Their contents govern the terms of your ownership as well as your rights and obligations.
A Hierarchy of Documents
In order to understand how various laws and rules work to govern multifamily buildings, it may be helpful to view them in a hierarchy.
At the top, in a co-op, is the Certificate of Incorporation, which is filed with the Department of State. The equivalent for condos is the Declaration of the Condominium. These documents may contain specific provisions for making amendments. If it’s not available in the building’s files, a copy of this document may be obtained from the Secretary of State, Department of State, Division of Corporations, in Albany.
Next in the hierarchy are the bylaws of the co-op corporation or condo association. The bylaws govern how business is conducted within the building: its form of government, election and voting process, the type and frequency of meetings, the specific form of agenda for meetings, a description of the board and number of officers, as well as their duties and responsibilities.