Your roof terrace leaked and the neighbor below you sued for damages. Do you have any recourse? The heating system in your apartment failed to work and the managing agent sent you the bill for its repair. Do you have to pay? You bought a dog for your child, and six months later the board has demanded that it be removed from the building. Do you have to comply?
The answers to most questions raised by co-op and condo residents are contained in the governing documents of the corporation or, in the case of a condo, the unincorporated association. These documents which include the proprietary lease, the bylaws and the house rules are generally filed away for safekeeping in your attorney’s office. Or, perhaps you have a copy that you keep with your other important papers. Whatever the arrangement, these documents should be read (and periodically re-read) by every co-op and condo owner because their contents govern the terms of your ownership as well as your rights and obligations.
A Hierarchy of Documents
To make some sense of the maze of rules, laws, doctrines and codes that affect ownership of shares and property in co-ops and condos, it is important to view these documents in some sort of hierarchical order. At the top, in a co-op, is the certificate of incorporation filed with the Department of State as required by Section 402 of the Business Corporation Law of New York State. The equivalent, for condos, is the declaration of the condominium required by Article 9B of the Real Property Law of the State of New York, commonly referred to as the Condominium Act. These documents may contain specific provisions for making amendments. A copy of this document may be obtained from the Secretary of State, Department of State, Division of Corporations in Albany if it is not available in the corporate files.
Next in the hierarchy are the bylaws of the co-op corporation or condo association. The bylaws form the basis for conducting business within the organization, and this document generally details the purpose of the entity; its form of government; the method of elections; the voting process; the type and frequency of meetings of directors, shareholders or owners; the specific form of agenda for the meeting(s); a description of the directors and the number of officers along with a description of their duties, responsibilities and liabilities.