The Ruling Class Know Your Governing Documents

If your neighbor blasts his music during the weekends, do you have a right to complain to the management? Can you sublet a room in your co-op apartment to make some extra cash? How many unit owners have to be present at a meeting in order to amend the by-laws? These are questions that co-op shareholders, condo owners, and even board members frequently ask. While the answers can be complex at times, they are often simple resolutions found in each building’s governing documents.

“Governing documents serve the same function as does the U.S. Constitution to our federal government,” explains Bruce A. Cholst, a partner at the law firm of Rosen Livingston & Cholst LLP in Manhattan. “They tell you the various legal rules and define the rights between the association or corporation and residents as well as the various rights of unit owners or shareholders vis-à-vis each other. They set down everyone’s legal obligations and define their relationship.”

Ignorance of one's own governing documents is the basis for a lot of misunderstanding and confusion so it critical to familiarize yourself with these several very important pieces of paper.

Document Basics

Whether you live in a co-op in the Village or a condo community in Westchester, there are certain documents that both types of buildings have. The first on the list are the bylaws, which form the basic guide for how the co-op or condo will do business. Bylaws lay out everything from the organization's purpose to how the board operates and method of running meetings to the governance protocols, says Ronald A. Sher, Esq. a founding partner of the law firm of Himmelfarb & Sher LLP in White Plains.

Co-ops will also have the house rules, which are similar to the rules and regulations in condominium associations. These govern the conduct of residents and quality of life issues. They are usually less technical than the bylaws but also a lot harder to enforce. Fed up with your neighbor who blares the trombone every day at 5 p.m? Check out the house rules to see what you can do about it. House rules explain when you have to turn off your music, how many plants you can have on your terrace and whether you can change your door from that boring taupe to lime green (probably not!). Most legal experts will agree that the majority of disputes in co-ops and condos are related to the house rules or rules and regulations.


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