Anyone who’s lived in a co-op or condo building for a number of years usually has at least a passing understanding of what happens when their building’s lobby needs repainting, or when the board meets to decide what style of new wainscoting to go with in the hallways. Votes are taken, contractors contacted, and then the project is under way. After a (hopefully) brief period where halls are cluttered with equipment and workmen come and go at what seems like all hours, the project is finished. There may be a few who object to the new color of paint, or would have preferred burled oak for the wainscoting, but for the most part, these things are routine.
Rather more complicated is what happens when a resident wishes to make alterations to an apartment independent of the board and the rest of the building. To make sure your project runs as smoothly as possible, it’s vital that any shareholder or owner wishing to alter his or her space communicate effectively with both the board and the contractor carrying out the project. It’s equally important for shareholder/owners to do adequate research about all the issues surrounding a renovation–planning, approaching contractors, insurance… You must have a clear idea of what to expect before the first whiff of plaster dust falls.
First Things First
The first concern of any shareholder wishing to remodel their apartment should be to determine exactly what their building will allow them to do on their own. Says Neil Hurwitz, vice president of marketing for Deborah Bradley Construction and Management in Manhattan, "You can’t work without board approval–you just can’t." Every building imposes certain limitations on what a resident can do to their space without consulting the board and getting legal clearance for the project. Generally, if a resident wishes to have work done on their apartment, they must meet with their board, present their intentions, and draw up what is known as an "alteration agreement." This document addresses the specifics of the proposed construction–what exactly will be done to the apartment, when it will be done, who’s doing it, and what steps are being taken to insure minimal disturbance and damage to the residents and the building itself. Says C. Bradley Cronk, RA, of Manhattan law firm LePatner & Associates, "An alteration agreement is typically entered into between the shareholder of a co-op or unit owner of a condo and the co-op or condo board or its managing agent. Most of the provisions contained in an alteration agreement are geared toward protecting the condo or co-op and its residents from claims arising from the owner’s construction."
As the shareholder or owner, you’re obviously directly involved with any alterations you make to your living space–it was your idea, after all–but it’s not just about you. Your building’s board and managing agent both have a stake in the changes you make in your apartment, for the sake of the structure itself, its legal status, and the rights and safety of your fellow residents. According to Rosemary Paparo, director of management for Buchbinder and Warren in Manhattan, "Our main concern is that the structural integrity of the building is not compromised. You may be using a licensed plumber or electrician, but lots of things can come up, regardless of whether they’re fully licensed or not."