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How to Avoid Unwanted Guests in Your Co-op and Condo

Other, Real Estate Legality, Real Property

Is it possible to avoid unwanted guests in your co-op or condo unit? Not if the unwanted your guests are your landlord, superintendent or other agents of the building. New York State’s Multiple Dwelling Law requires tenants to supply a duplicate key to their landlord for inspections and repairs, which co-op shareholders generally are also subject to under a proprietary lease. Section 51-C of the Law permits tenants to install a second lock separate from the one maintained by the landlord, however, the landlord or their agent may request a duplicate key for this lock.

When determining whether you need to leave a spare key, check the by-laws, house rules, and for co-ops the proprietary lease. In most cases a duplicate key will need to be available in case of an emergency, which the landlord or another agent of the building is permitted to use without giving any notice. The landlord or other authorized persons may also use the key for an appropriate reason with at least 24 hours’ written notice for inspections and one weeks’ notice for repairs. Residents frequently ask whether the board is able to demand a duplicate key and just enter your property whenever they deem necessary. Larry Vitelli, the director of operations for a Manhattan property management and real estate company says that “in most cases the justification for entering an apartment in a tenant’s absence falls somewhere between willy-nilly and emergency.”

How the keys to your co-op or condo are stored depend on the building management. Some buildings have keys hanging next to the doorman; others have locked boxes or even electronic systems such as KeyLink, which is an electronically locked drawer that sends out email notifications to the unit owner when someone takes a key out. One of the most prominent concerns for individuals living in a co-op or condo is security. Typically, people do not want to leave their keys in a place that is made available to anyone in the building. However, living in a co-op or condo requires certain sacrifices not made by single, private homeowners. For instance, a gas or water leak in your unit affects not only your unit but your neighbors as well. “You should have a right to privacy, but you don’t have the right to impede emergency repairs to a building.”

In the past, cases dealing with whether you must duplicate a key are usually resolved in favor of the landlord. In 111 Tenants Corporation v. Stromberg, 168 Misc.2d 1014 (1996), a co-op shareholder felt unsafe on her own and did not want the superintendent to have a copy of her key or have any access into her unit. The Civil Court ordered the shareholder to provide a spare key, as required by the proprietary lease, and if she refused, her proprietary lease would be terminated.

Co-op and condo boards can help make shareholders and owners feel safer if they provide greater security for key access. There are a number of electronic devices that allow only authorized persons from taking keys and they send electronic key tracking to the shareholder or owner. KeyWatcher and KeyBank by Morse Watchmans are electronic key cabinets that make it easy for buildings to secure, keep track of keys, and have them readily available for authorized personnel.

Regardless of whether your building uses an old key cabinet or has invested in greater security measures, it is important that the co-op or condo board provide a written security policy that meets the demands of both the board and the residents. The policy should include provisions such as who has authorized access, how and where can you obtain your duplicate key, and what are the steps to take when the duplicate key is lost.

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