Private homeowners can do pretty much whatever they want in their own homes, as long as it’s not illegal and doesn’t put other people or private property at risk. These same rights are not always afforded to co-op owners, however, and in some cases, not to condo unit owners, either. Building boards and management often attempt to regulate the behavior of residents, from mandating what percentage of their floors must be carpeted to attempting to prevent people from smoking in their apartments.
This may seem crazy to those who don't understand how anybody can have control over what happens in the privacy of another person's home—after all, isn’t this the Land of the Free? Well, yes – but.
Far-reaching rules and regulations in co-ops and condos have had varying levels of success over the years in court, with shareholder/owners generally winning out over overzealous boards when rules result in controversy.
To understand the difference between the authority of a co-op board versus a condo board, it's important to understand the difference between co-op and condo ownership itself. Patricia Kantor, a partner in the law firm of Edwards Wildman Palmer, says that since shareholders in a co-op do not own their apartments outright, but rather own shares in a cooperative corporation, the relationship between residents and board resembles somewhat that of a landlord and a tenant—though with some major differences, of course.
“Like any landlord, the co-op board is empowered to oversee the operation of the entire building, which includes the individual apartments,” says Kantor. “Assuming a co-op board is not arbitrary, self-dealing or breaking any laws, and believes it is acting in the best interest of the co-op as a whole, the proprietary lease, bylaws and applicable law gives a co-op board pretty broad authority to dictate what shareholders may do in their apartments.”