Every day in New York City interior renovation work is taking place that is illegal to a greater or lesser degree. Just because the work looks good, does not mean that it meets Building Code requirements or that it's what the board of directors of the co-op or condo approved. In some cases, the board may not even know about the work. This presents serious potential hazards for the other shareholders or unit owners in the building.
Why It's A Problem
When co-op or condo owners undertake unauthorized renovation work in their apartments, there is no quality control and no way for the building to know how that work may be affecting the rest of the building. An illegally installed washing machine can cause a flood that damages the apartment below. Changes in electrical wiring performed by an unlicensed electrician can cause a fire. Unknowledgeable workmen can remove or weaken structural members. In one case, a shareholder's illegal renovation resulted in a steam pipe breaking. Not only was someone burned, but the apartment below was flooded, causing extensive property damage. The Building Code ensures a consistent level of quality in renovation and construction work, and to enforce compliance, most renovation work requires some type of filing with the Building Department.
Any time someone is in doubt as to whether or not work requires filing with the Building Department or the Landmarks Commission, they should consult with an architect or engineer who knows the code. Some co-op boards require prior approval even for decorative work, such as painting or wallpapering. This enables them to control who goes in and out of the building. At a minimum, the building may require a security deposit of some sort to protect against footprints on the carpeting from workmen.
The Building Alteration Agreement
The best way to protect the building is to require that an alteration agreementa contract between the shareholder or unit owner and the buildingbe signed. Printed forms of these agreements are available on the market or can be procured from the managing agent. Many buildings hire an attorney to draft one. Some agreements are very comprehensive, while others are totally inadequate. The apartment owner should always have an attorney review the agreement so that he or she understands what is involved.
Even if the building uses a standard form, it is very important for board members to discuss the agreement with an attorney knowledgeable in this area to be certain that all of the building's concerns have been addressed, including exactly what work is being done and how that work may affect the building and neighboring residents. This can be accomplished by requiring the person contracting the alterations to provide a set of plans prepared by an architect that document the scope of the work. If the resident does different work, or more work than is shown in the drawings, the board will know. The building may want to have a consulting architect review them at the apartment owner's expense.