‘White-Glove’ Co-op Rules That Rankle
My husband and I recently viewed an apartment in a “white-glove” co-op. It was exactly the type of apartment we had been searching for — and it had its own private entrance! We bid on the apartment and, to our delight, it was ours. Then we read the governing documents. They said that “household help” was restricted to using service elevators and entrances, while residents could use the main ones. Two sets of laundry facilities separated such workers from residents. My husband noted that since we would have our own entrance and don’t have any household help, the bylaws wouldn’t affect us. But we would still do our laundry in the separate laundry rooms and would still be a part of what we consider reprehensible policies. We withdrew our bid. Are the building’s policies ethical, or even legal?
Sutton Place, Manhattan
A white-glove building, by definition, connotes Old World (and old money) sensibilities — a modern-day “Downton Abbey” on the Upper East Side. Aside from the poor choice of words, it is not surprising that its rules would address domestic staff. The very term for this type of building refers to the gloves its employees, namely its doormen, wear.
“ ‘The help’ is probably a euphemism for language that was used even earlier, like ‘servant,’ ” said Timothy B. Jay, the author of “The Psychology of Language” (Pearson, 2002). “If ‘household help’ is offensive now, they’ll use something else, like ‘personal assistant.’ But it’s not the word that’s offensive, it’s the condition, it’s the behavior.”
That said, the people who live there might find the wording as gauche as you do. After all, they probably did not write it. Co-ops and condominiums draft governing documents when the buildings are erected or converted. If the co-op is a longstanding one, lawyers very likely wrote those documents decades ago.
Read through any building’s rules and invariably you will find things that no longer apply. Boards rarely bother to change outmoded details because amending the bylaws or proprietary leases typically requires a two-thirds or three-quarters vote of the owners or shareholders. Instead, such rules are often simply ignored. For example, although the governing documents prohibit it, domestic staff may routinely use the main entrance and elevators. “Not everything you read in these forms is enforceable or reflects the current culture,” said Steven R. Wagner, a Manhattan real estate lawyer.
Of course, it is possible that the board does enforce rules about domestic workers. That would not constitute discrimination since such workers are not a protected class, according to Mr. Wagner. To learn more about how the building operates, you could have read meeting minutes, asked brokers for insight or scoured the Internet for gossip. These things might have told you much more about the building’s culture than any boilerplate document could.
Dreaded Board Meeting
My husband and I own the co-op unit in Brooklyn where our son, who has autism, lives. He is high functioning and an agency supports his independent living. A neighbor complains about the noise he makes at night. Two years ago, we drove from our Connecticut home on a weekday to meet with the co-op board to discuss the problem. This is a hardship because we are both physicians with busy schedules. After a nasty meeting, we agreed to make changes. The board has requested another meeting because the neighbor has threatened legal action. We suggested meeting via video or telephone conferencing. We also offered to have his case manager and caseworker meet with management and the board. The board insists we meet at the building. Is our request for accommodation inappropriate? Do we have any legal standing?
I can think of many things I would rather do than drive from Connecticut to Brooklyn to talk to a co-op board about a disgruntled neighbor. But it sure beats getting sued.
Because you own the apartment, dealing with its problems is your responsibility, even if you live out of state. While the co-op is required to provide reasonable accommodation for residents with disabilities, its obligation does not extend to family members. “A reasonable accommodation is an accommodation to address or deal with someone’s disability, not for the convenience of where a meeting should be,” said Steven D. Sladkus, a Manhattan real estate lawyer.
The board is obligated to respond to the needs of your son and the aggrieved shareholder. Taking a day off from work to sort this out might seem like an inconvenience, but it might ultimately help your cause. “If you don’t show, you almost appear to be dismissive of the problem,” Mr. Sladkus said.
To make the most of your time, do your homework. Ask the board or management to share details ahead of time. Consult with your son’s support team. Speak with a noise consultant, who could suggest practical solutions like soundproofing.
A Flood From a Neighbor
I live in a rent-stabilized apartment, and there was a flood in my bathroom from another apartment. I do not have renters’ insurance. Who holds responsibility?
Stuyvesant Town, Manhattan
If your apartment floods, your landlord must fix whatever caused the leak and repair any damage the water caused. You would also be entitled to a rent abatement for the time when your bathroom was unusable or for your inconvenience, according to Alan J. Goldberg, a Manhattan lawyer who represents tenants.
As for whom to bill for damaged property, it depends on who caused the flood. If your neighbor, say, left the faucet on in the bathtub all day, then your neighbor is liable. But if a faulty pipe is the culprit, the onus could fall on the landlord. “If in doubt, it is best to demand compensation from both and let them sort it out,” Mr. Goldberg said.
Now might be a good time to consider a renters’ insurance policy, which usually costs less than $200 a year. You can’t file a claim for this event, but it would provide you with some security in the future.