Ruling the Roost The Bottom Line on House Rules

The dream of homeownership often brings with it the independence of owning your own space, decorating it as you wish and living by your own rules. Yet when you reside in a co-op or condominium with possibly hundreds of other residents, your behavior and lifestyle must conform to a reasonable standard. With that in mind, all buildings establish house rules - guidelines outlining policies for proper behavior and rules for keeping your property safe and well-maintained. Incorporated as part of the governing documents, house rules help residents live together in peace and harmony - well, most of the time, anyway.

Standard house rules control such things as subletting, pets, noise, or cell phone usage, decorations in common areas and hallways, ensure the proper disposal and storage of garbage and debris, say where children may or may not play or spell out the building's playground or pool hours, and other quality of life issues.

The Letter of the Law

"House rules are common-sense etiquette for living in a multiple dwelling," according to Robert Braverman, a managing partner of Braverman and Associates, PC in Manhattan. "The rules are the day-to-day conduct which owners and shareholders are supposed to follow."

However, it's important to understand that house rules are not the same as a building's bylaws. "In general, a cooperative board of directors act on behalf of the corporation, and their authority to act and adopt rules [that] are written in the bylaws," says Daniel T. Altman, a partner at the Manhattan law firm of Belkin, Burden, Wenig & Goldman. "As a byproduct of the bylaws and the proprietary lease, the sponsor (the person who built or converted the building to a cooperative or condominium) [then] drafts house rules that govern the use and occupancy of the building and the manner in which the shareholders can conduct themselves in the building."

The bylaws, according to Altman, generally outline board procedures, such as shareholder meetings, board size, and board member roles and responsibilities. "In contrast, the house rules are pretty much the problems that relate to property management on a day-to-day basis," says Altman. "For example, where residents can put an air conditioner, where children can play, noise problems, animals, and what to do with garbage."

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