Q&A: Dealing with Illegal Rentals

Q I am the president of a 25-unit condominium association in Suffolk County, N.Y. Our offering plan, declaration and bylaws all stipulate that the community is for single-family occupancy only. In the past, all owners have complied. One owner recently rented her unit to three young men, none of whom are related. We have already had complaints from other owners about too many cars on weekends, speeding, going the wrong way. Is our only recourse going to court? How can we enforce a rule now and in the future—that is already so obviously spelled out and delineated? None of our documents require a homeowner to submit a copy of a lease before renting. Do we have to change and re-record our bylaws?

—Subletting in Suffolk

A “The simplest way to address your concerns vis-à-vis traffic and speeding conditions in the condominium is to encourage the association board to develop (or amend existing) rules and regulations that govern all unit owners and their behavior,” says Brian W. Kronick, Esq., managing partner of the Newark-based law firm of Genova Burns. “Your bylaws should discuss the manner in which these rules can be amended, but the implementation of these policies does not typically require a formal amendment to the condominium’s formation documents, nor does it require the recording of the changes. Make sure to provide proper notice of the new traffic rules to all unit owners and/or tenants (and especially the subject unit owner and the owner’s offending tenants) in conformity with the by-laws.

“You might also consider creating a policy requiring that all future leases be reviewed and approved by the condo board or management office. The board could also adopt requirements governing the content of all lease agreements. Leases should (and often do) include a provision requiring all tenants to observe the rules of the condominium as they apply to unit owners. Any new restrictions might also clarify and confirm the single family occupancy requirement in order to remind owners that they may only lease to certain tenants. However, to be most enforceable, lease restrictions should be embodied in the governing documents, which would likely require an amendment with the consent of two-thirds of all unit owners.

“Also, it is a good idea to review your bylaws and declaration thoroughly for other remedies. Your bylaws likely have an enforcement provision that allows the association to fine a unit owner or place a lien on a unit (usually after some form of disciplinary hearing) for failure to observe association rules. While enforcement actions against the unit owner in question may not address the disruptive tenants directly, the penalties should inspire the unit owner to lease to single families only. At a minimum, the penalties should compel the owner to insist that the existing tenants start behaving better, or face eviction.”

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