Q&A: Structural vs. Non-Structural Changes

The original condo declaration, bylaws, amendments and house rules allow for  renovations without board approval to interior units if they do not affect  common area are not structural in nature. I installed a wall partition (does  not affect a bearing wall) in the dining room, which has created an additional  room. The condo attorney is arguing that when you change the “character” of a unit this is considered structural. In addition the board is upset that  the original floor plan has been altered. I am an investor in this complex. I  do not intend to have overcrowding in the unit—the unit does have greater rent ability/potential for profit. I obtained all  proper permits from the town for wall partition. The condo attorney has since  sent a cease and desist letter to the town to not issue such permits and  certificate of compliance anymore. I intend to fight this issue by asking the  court for a permanent injunction. Am I being reasonable? Is the condo attorney  right that structure equals character?  

—Awaiting Walls  

 “As an attorney who works with co-ops and condominiums and also handles  construction issues, I must say that I do not think this is as black and white  as you are describing it,” says C. Jaye Berger, Esq., a New York City-based attorney whose practice focuses on  real estate and construction law and litigation. “First, it is increasingly common for condominiums to have such rules, which  makes them more like co-ops when it comes to renovations. Therefore, the answer  to this question is equally relevant to readers living in co-ops. The point of  having such rules is not to drive you crazy or make your life more difficult,  but is instead to protect the safety of you and your neighbors. Believe me I  have heard about some crazy renovation work over the years that was done  without either board approval or building department approval.  

 “The situation you describe seems to me to be a hybrid of structural and  non-structural issues. Even though the building department in the town where  you live has approved it—that is only half of the equation. The fact that you even had to get permits  from the town to do this work tells me that it is considered ‘structural’ by the town. If you were just painting your apartment, we all would agree that  neither your board would be involved nor the town building department. You  would not need permits to paint.  

 “Without knowing all the facts, I can only guess about certain things, but I  would guess that the reason your town required permits is the same reason why  the condominium’s attorney is objecting. Changing the room count is not a minor thing. Consider  this example. I know of a situation in a co-op apartment where the shareholder  put up several non-load bearing partitions to create little living areas, then  rented them out as rooms. When the board sued the shareholder, they were  concerned not only about the subletting, but about the renovation. Putting up  partitions changes the Certificate of Occupancy because it changes the room  count. Changing the Certificate of Occupancy is much like applying for a permit  to renovate an apartment.  

 “You say that the unit has ‘greater rent ability/potential for profit.’ Isn’t that just like the example I gave above, but on a smaller scale? You are  creating new rooms by putting up a partition. They are rooms without windows  and without the characteristics of bedrooms. In an extreme case, there have  been fires in apartments where the room count had been changed with partitions  and the firemen became disoriented because the actual floor plan was different  from the layout they had been given.  

 “The board has the right to make appropriate rules and regulations for the  building. Sometimes they are the same as those for the building department, but  other times they may be more restrictive. In other words, the building  department may allow something, but for some reason your building may not. They  have the right to do that under the “business judgment rule.” It refers to the fact that the board has been given the authority by those who  elected them to use their “business judgment” to decide what is best for the building. If the board turns down an application  to renovate an apartment, the rule would apply. Trying to get an injunction on  this issue may not be the best use for your money.”  

 

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15 Comments

  • I live in a neighbourhood where there is an Association. When we first moved the area was still under construction. There was only one security for 250 homes. There were a lot of robberies. We live on a house that has a main street behind. There is a wall behind the yard and people were jumping from the back to rob houses. My husband is a retired sick person who is home all day alone. I had gone to a meeting and requested permit to this new association since they can find any documentation from the previous Association. The previous Association misplaced a lot of documents accornding to this new management group. They had mentioned that they were going to approved under the Grandfather Law. Now after six month they are giving me 30 days to remove the bars from a Sliding door in the back. The back of my house faces the Street. There are no houses on the back and the houses that can see my back yard they don't belong to this Management Group is another Association. My husband refuses to remove the Bars from the Sliding Door. What can I do.
  • Get a security screen or safety glass that cannot be broken or French doors or an alarm system. I have learned you cannot fight HOA's they are dictatorial mean petty people. PUT A NICE TREE OUTSIDE IN A POT OR ON THE GROUND. THEN PUT BARS IN THE HOUSE. CONSULT A BABY PROOFING PLACE. THEY HAVE SPRING BARS FOR TH INSIDE. I have taken a condo to court. $45,000 later I won. They settled, but it took a year and it was a roof leak they were definitely responsible for. You can't win. I am in another battle as clear cut. Forget it. You're husband is not well enough for this. Wall in the door and make a little one that locks. Put a window there. YOU CAN'T WIN WITH PETTY DICTATORIAL BUSY BODIES--BELIEVE ME. THEY ARE ALL FRIENDS AND ARE INBRED. THEY FEED OFF THEIR OWN IGNORANCE. WE STILL HAVE NO ROOF INSURANCE AT THE CONDO ASSOCIATION AND WHAT IF THERE IS ANOTHER ROOF LEAK???????
  • frustrated in the heights on Sunday, August 22, 2010 11:49 AM
    I live in a co-op which has had water leaking in to the building from the roof. This has been a problem for at least 2 years. In the interim, one of my bedrooms has had extensive water damage to the walls and now the ceiling. It has been uninhabitable for this amount of time. I have been trying to get some sort of answers and or remedy to this situation to no avail. Recently, for the last 3 months, I have decided to withhold my maintenance payments. What ramifications should I expect from this action?
  • Don't just withhold maintenance, put them in escrow so a judge knows that you mean to pay them if this goes to court. A coop board is responsible to keep apartment is habitable condition. You may have to take this to court for relief.
  • I did partion in my apartment without adding any additional room but making extended doorway from outside door to the room which I made smaller by installing the partition. So my door was become from 30 inches to 24 inches. And because of that my management said made legal procedure to evict me from co-op apartmen which I am the owner. Is this legal?
  • I live in a 3 bedroom co-op apartment in NYC, broke down the wall in the master bedroom to make it larger but did not go thru the Board. When the contractor broke down the wall he took the hallway closet to make it larger, then realized the master bedroom had no closet, so he used my daughters old bedroom and make closets and oh, we we dating and now he's claiming that he made economic consturction changes to benefit me. So, now the apartment is actually a two bedroom and not three. Do I have a leg to stand on?
  • My condominium is renovating. They want to change door hardware (from brass knobs to brush nickel lever style) and as a result will also be changing lock cyclinders(from brass to brushed nickel). Some owners say condo has no right to change any lock cylinders. Help?
  • I live in a condo in Reston Va...Our heating and Air Conditioning is controlled by a central unit. They turn on the heat in October and the Air Conditioning in May. But the problem is that in Northern Virginia it's getting hotter and hotter each year. Right now it's 84 degrees outside and inside it's over 100 degrees in our condo. We have complained to our management office about it. We were advised that Fairfax county has a rule that they can turn off the heat May 1st. But we are suffering! All of our Windows are open. I am not sleeping and I also suffer from Asthma. This cannot be legal and I need help! Both my husband and myself suffer from Allergies and Asthma..I also work from home and this is causing my electronic( computers and such)...to blank out... What can we do aout this?
  • I am replacing old interior doors in my condo with new doors. The condo association is stating that I was to have requested permission for any work done to the interior premises. However, per the by lays it states that permission is required "for alterations or additions involving existing walls, plumbing, and/or electrical systems." The "Request for Alterations" form states that requests should be submitted for wall/ceiling/floors that will be modified or removed. Are doors considered to be walls?
  • Is replacing carpet with hardwood considered a structural change?
  • I live on the bottom floor of a 3 story condo building. THe wal between my bedroom and bathroom now has a "critter" in there. I hear it scratching and have now heard it chirp so assume it is a bird. Who is responsible for taking care of this problem??? is that "inside the walls" considered common area
  • hi l am planning on renovations in my new apartment which includes breaking down a wall between the kitchen and the living room, do l need a structural engineer or architect for this?
  • I'm reading the about comments, and see that, It's now got to the point of getting SEPARATE ROOF INSURANCE, eh? Insted of just getting an inclusive HOUSE INSURANCE! You all should know that it's all about money. The city / town orgs. are BROKE, and they look around to see in what ways they can get money into their own pockets, and squeeze money out of the oublic. ...in everyway.
  • I live on the second floor of a co-op where the staircase is inside our unit. The other day when going down the steps, I heard a crack and the step felt like it dropped. We pulled the carpeting back to discover that the beam under the staircase is broken. According to our agreement with the co-op, flooring is our responsibility. How do we determine whether this is a flooring issue or a structural issue? It's not the actual step that broke but the beam that seems to hold the staircase up.
  • I installed a doggie door that goes in between the sliding glass doors. We were told to remove it because it is a structural change. This did not alter anything (it's removable).