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House Rules: The Co-Op Authority

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Think of a Co-Op as the “house rules.” Typically, these regulations are aimed at protecting the safety of residents and generally keeping order. Few would argue with most house rules; ones that restrict residents from holding a “garage sale” in the lobby, for example, or throwing a raging party at three o’clock in the morning generally enjoy widespread support.

Occasionally however, a board will overstep its bounds and try to implement stricter than necessity or legality.  If board members find it necessary to make a rule that goes beyond what their bylaws allow, they’ll first have to amend the bylaws. These situations require the participation of shareholders and require a 2/3 vote. 

 If the board makes rules that contradict it’s authority as laid out in the governing documents, it may be subject to legal challenge.  In which case, if the new overly strict rules apply to you, you may be able to get them reversed. The last thing a board needs is to get dragged into court and see their rule nullified. Adhering to the letter and spirit of the bylaws should ensure a rule’s legality.

Not all rules are cut-and-dried; a rule that’s perfectly reasonable for a common area can turn bad in a hurry when applied to individual units. What can reasonably be restricted in public spaces may not be reasonably restricted in a shareholder’s individual unit.  Restricting what someone does in their own apartment if it’s not demonstrably dangerous to the neighbors, can be an overreach.  Such rules may be challenged in a court of law or by the assistance of counsel. 

While most condo boards have the power to levy fines, their most muscular means of dealing with problem owners, is to seek an injunction in court. Short of eviction, a co-op board can levy extra maintenance charges against shareholders, or revoke privileges like parking spaces and use of common space like roofs.  A co-op is not all powerful, however.  A shareholder can also levy the court’s authority to correct a problem with the co-op’s rules, especially if these rules have caused you to incur money damages.   

Although it’s generally in the best interests of all parties to use litigation only as a last resort, sometimes it is absolutely necessary. Still, there’s one approach to conflict resolution short of involving an attorney that could yield happier results for everyone: professional mediation.  It’s a remedy that often proves to be very effective.

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