Q&A: Nit-Picking?

Q Our condo has prohibited the use of doormats. They say they are a hazard. Is this legal? How can we fight this nit-picking rule?

—Annoyed in Brooklyn

A “As with so many issues that arise between unit owners and a condominium’s board of managers, the answer to this question will depend on provisions contained in the condominium’s governing documents: the declaration, bylaws and rules and regulations,” says Lawrence F. DiGiovanna, Esq., a co-op and condo attorney with an office in Brooklyn. “A standard provision found in most condominium rules and regulations states that corridors and other common elements shall not be obstructed. A typical condominium declaration and bylaws will authorize the condominium’s board of managers to amend the rules and regulations in a manner as ‘may be reasonably necessary for the proper operation of the building.’ Consequently, a board’s expansion or elaboration on the rule prohibiting obstructions in corridors by specifying that doormats are included among the types of prohibited obstructions would appear to be a reasonable exercise of the board’s authority.

“The reasonableness of the board’s promulgation of such a rule would also appear to be supported by provisions of the New York City Administrative Code which require that in every multiple dwelling, corridors shall be kept free and clear of encumbrances at all times in order that free, safe and unobstructed egress to the outside of the building may be maintained during all hours of the day and night. One can envision how, during an emergency, a resident could trip over a doormat in a hallway resulting in injury to the resident, not to mention potential liability to the condominium and unit owner.

“Nevertheless, the unit owners may have the ability to overturn a board’s amendment to the rules and regulations if the bylaws contain language, as many do, allowing a majority in common interest of the unit owners to overrule the board. In order to effectively do so, the issue must be voted upon at either a special meeting of the unit owners or the annual meeting, in either case, according to the procedures set out in the bylaws.

“However, the wisdom of overruling a requirement that, on its face, appears to protect the safety of the building’s residents and is consistent with administrative code requirements is debatable and could place the condominium in the untenable position of being in violation of the administrative code. What appears to some as ‘nit-picking,’ is often sound board policy.”

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