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Laws Versus Rules: You Need to Know the Difference

By: Raanan Geberer

March, 2013

New York’s co-ops and condos are both governed by a multitude of laws and rules…

Sometimes, laws that are enacted that mandate change can cause conflict with co-ops and condos that are used to doing things a certain way. For example, the Fair Housing Amendments Act mandates that a multiple dwelling with a parking lot must provide reasonable accommodations for disabled people who drive, and not to do so entails discrimination.

This was the background for the Shapiro vs. Cadman Towers (in Brooklyn) case, in which the building’s management had argued that “reasonable accommodations” should not include taking away parking spaces from those residents who already have them. In the end, according to attorney Adam Leitman Bailey of Adam Leitman Bailey PC, the court ruled that although Ms. Shapiro needed a space near her apartment or else he wouldn’t be able to park at all, she could be given such a space currently used by one of the building workers, and that worker could park in a nearby commercial garage without any hardship.

As if these conflicts were not enough, there are also conflicts between state, city, and federal laws or mandates, says Bailey. “The biggest challenge to housing laws from a federal perspective in the last two decades,” he says, “are the green laws, or federal credits for building green, and the compliance with the lead paint law and building disability-friendly units.” Coming in the future, he says, are regulations requiring more buildings to have federal flood insurance to refinance and get a mortgage…

Avoiding Conflict

Getting back to the “rules” side of things, house rules, as we’ve mentioned above, are typically decided by the board. The board’s governing documents, such as a proprietary lease, offering plan and bylaws, “were based on old residential lease forms and are decades old, so progressive buildings have been amending these so that the hand fits the glove of these buildings,” says Bailey.

So what precautions should boards take to make sure that their house rules aren’t going to come in conflict with the law, and to keep up with changes in the law? First. they can consult with their managing agent, and/or an attorney familiar with co-op and condo law, and ask a lot of questions. Other sources of information are publications like this one, seminars given by co-op and condo organizations (as well as The Cooperator’s annual Co-op & Condo Expo), and newsletters and websites put out by attorneys that give updates on the law…

Bailey says battles over second-hand smoke are among the most hotly contested items in today’s condo and co-op world. “The law is still being developed respecting second-hand smoke,” he says. “At present, there are few recorded cases but, given the amount of poor new and renovated construction that occurred over the past decade, it is likely there will be a significant amount of litigation over smoke issues in the near future.”

In an article on his website called “Advising Condominiums, Cooperatives and Landlords on Smoking Issues Affecting Buildings,” he outlines the issue and gives sample lease amendments and sample letters from the board to an individual owner. He also summarizes specific cases dealing with the issue.

Does the whole topic of rules and laws corresponding with each other sound confusing? It certainly can be. In general, before boards enact changes to house rules or policies, they should consult their attorneys to make sure everything’s legal.

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