What repairs are co-op and condo owners responsible for, and what do buildings take care of?
Herrick partners Deborah Koplovitz and Andrew Freedland spoke to Brick Underground about whether condominium and cooperative buildings, or their residents, are responsible for window replacements, water damage, and paint and wallpaper repair in the building and its units.
In regards to window damage, Andrew said, "Nine times out of 10, windows are the responsibility of the co-op." The article explained that Andrew "is dealing with exactly this issue for a client and says in most cases if the window frames are in disrepair, a co-op board has a responsibility to maintain them. However, the majority of co-ops were converted in the 1970s and 1980s, and in some cases the proprietary lease has been updated. If your lease has been amended, the responsibility may have been transferred to the shareholders."
Deborah clarified that if a window is scratched or discolored in some way, the damage would not fall under the warranty of habitability. "It has to be a real health and safety issue," she said. The article said that "[t]he co-op board has a responsibility to make sure the apartment is fit for human habitation but isn't responsible if damage is caused by the tenant. For example, if a resident throws a bottle and it breaks the window, the co-op wouldn't be responsible." Deborah added that, in that case, "there will be a defense to that[.]"
Discussing water damage, the article explained that "[i]f there's a plumbing issue that's unrelated to a fixture within the apartment, in most cases the responsibility for the repair will fall on the co-op board. Again, you'll want to take a look at your proprietary lease to make sure." Deborah said, "If it is inside the building walls it's a co-op's responsibility under the lease. If it's outside of the walls—if it's the faucet, if it's the toilet fixture, if it's the sink—nine times out of 10 it's a shareholder responsibility.
The article described a scenario Deborah has dealt with: "The building says the water is going to be shut down for a period of time for maintenance and all faucets should be turned off. Perhaps you turn them on by accident forgetting there's no water. You leave the apartment and while you're out, the water gets turned back on. The open faucet floods your apartment and your neighbor's in the line below you. The co-op might help you with getting in a dryer as a courtesy," but Deborah specified that, in this scenario, "that flood damage and all the resulting damage is going to be the shareholder's problem."
The article concluded "[t]hat's why it's important to have homeowner's insurance." Andrew explained that a standard '80s style lease does not typically have a requirement that shareholders get insurance but it's one of the most frequently requested proprietary lease amendments.
Concerning paint and wallpaper, the article informed that, "[a]s a shareholder in a co-op, it's possible you could call 311 and get a violation against a board if the paint or wall covering in your apartment is bad shape." However, Deborah warned that this could annoy co-op boards "because that's not in the cooperative spirit."
Deborah pointed out that in some co-ops, there are shareholders that have a tenant mentality. "Maybe they bought when they were tenants and they stayed through the conversion," she suggested. She recommended that those tenants have good communication with management and that boards should educate shareholders about what is their responsibility under the lease, and what is not.