Following the Golden Rules Drafting Rules and Making them Stick

Every co-op and condo association has its own house rules—rules and regulations (hopefully) based on common sense and aimed at protecting residents' safety and quality of life without undue disruption or inconvenience.

Most unit owners would not argue with rules prohibiting “floor hockey” matches in the building’s hallways, nor would most boards try to enforce archaic rules such as “Milk bottles may not be placed in the lobby or front stoop.” However, there are times when rules and regulations that once made sense have become antiquated, irrelevant, and in need of change. There are other times when an overzealous board will attempt to institute a new rule of questionable need or legal means of enforcement. And implementing and enforcing such rules may invite unwanted litigation as well. Our experts have laid out a few ‘rules and regulations’ of their own about the key to writing and enforcing good house rules for your co-op or condo building.

Law & Order

Stacey R. Patterson, an attorney with Stark & Stark in Manhattan, which represents co-ops, condos and HOAs, says, “The first thing that people have to understand is that when you are buying in to a condo or a co-op you’re not 'the master’ of your domain.” Even in the case of new construction most of the rules are already in place. A basic set of bylaws and rules which can later be amended if necessary are included in the initial offering plan before the units are filled or a board is elected. According to Patterson, in the case of a condo, the unit owner “technically only owns the inside four walls of their unit and has a proportionate interest in everything that is common. In order to live harmoniously there has to be rules. That's why they have boards. One of their main goals is to maintain that harmony.” Patterson also advises board members to remember that for better or for worse associations are “to be run as a democracy. Board members are elected to represent the association as a whole. They are in fact ‘the voice of the people.’ Any actions they take need to be in the best interests of the association.”

Good Rule/Bad Rule

Most governing documents (the proprietary lease and bylaws for co-ops and the declaration of covenants, conditions and restrictions (CC&R) and bylaws for condo associations) will contain a statement that the board has the power to implement or change the house rules in any way it sees fit without the consent of the owners. But, reminds Patterson, “You cannot make up an arbitrary rule and expect to enforce it.”

Leonard Ritz, an attorney with the law firm of Adam Leitman Bailey, P.C. in New York City, agrees, “Fairness is the key. Rules need to make sense for the building. And they need to be uniformly applied. If a board finds that it continually needs to make exceptions to a rule, then it is likely a bad rule.”

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2 Comments

  • A fence was erected in which the malairets were deemed in violation of the deed restrictions. The deed restrictions state no wire of any type and the fence uses welded steel. The HOA has determined that the welded steel rods qualify as wire . The HOA sends violation letters, but typically only acts on behalf of owners who complain about a violation. Further, the owner who is complaining must be willing to file suit. At that point the HOA will file suit on behalf of the owner with the complaint. We have tried to work with the HOA to find a compromise, but they have sent a letter stating that the violation must be cured immediately or they will file suit. We have verbally requested a mediation with the complaining owner, but the HOA refuses mediation and refuses to provide information on who is complaining. There is another fence in our section that uses the same malairets and no action was taken against that owner/fence.
  • I live in a Mitchell Lama building in the Bronx that was built 60 years ago. We have never had HPD approved house rules and policies to protect the shareholders. Is there a rule or law that requires Mitchell Lama buildings to have written and HPD approved house rules? The current board refuses to submit anything to HPD. Is that legal?