Following the Golden Rule Drafting Rules and Making Them Stick

Every co-op and condo association has its own house rules—rules and regulations (hopefully) based on common sense and aimed at protecting residents' safety and quality of life without undue disruption or inconvenience.

Most unit owners would not argue with rules prohibiting “floor hockey” matches in the building’s hallways, nor would most boards try to enforce archaic rules such as “Milk bottles may not be placed in the lobby or front steps.” However, there are times when rules and regulations that once made sense have become antiquated, irrelevant, and in need of change. There are other times when an overzealous board will attempt to institute a new rule of questionable need or legal means of enforcement. And implementing and enforcing such rules may invite unwanted litigation as well. Our experts have laid out a few ‘rules and regulations’ of their own about the key to writing and enforcing good house rules for your co-op or condo building.

Law & Order

Stacey R. Patterson, an attorney in the Manhattan office of Stark & Stark, a Lawrenceville-based firm which represents co-ops, condos and HOAs says, “The first thing that people have to understand is that when you are buying in to a condo or a co-op you’re not 'the master’ of your domain.” Even in the case of new construction most of the rules are already in place. A basic set of bylaws and rules which can later be amended if necessary are included in the initial offering plan before the units are filled or a board is elected. According to Patterson, in the case of a condo, the tenant “technically only owns the inside four walls of their unit and has a proportionate interest in everything that is common. In order to live harmoniously there has to be rules. That's why they have boards. One of their main goals is to maintain that harmony.”

Patterson also advises board members to remember that for better or for worse associations are “to be run as a democracy. Board members are elected to represent the association as a whole. They are in fact ‘the voice of the people.’ Any actions they take need to be in the best interests of the association.”

Good Rule/Bad Rule

Most governing documents (the proprietary lease and bylaws for co-ops and the declaration of covenants, conditions and restrictions (CC&R) and bylaws for condo associations) will contain a statement that the board has the power to implement or change the house rules in any way it sees fit without the consent of the owners. But, reminds Patterson, “You cannot make up an arbitrary rule and expect to enforce it.”

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