Q&A: Cleaning Up the Clutter

Q. Certain owners in our building keep some of their personal belongings (i.e., bikes and tricycles, baby strollers, skates, tennis racquets, etc.) in the hallways next to their condo units. Sometimes we have to squeeze by all of their hallway clutter just to get inside our own units. Is there any legislation about personal belongings in stairwells or hallways? If not, what can I do to fix this problem? It’s really frustrating. 

                             —Mess in Montclair

A. “Your inquiry indicates that certain owners clutter the hallway with their personal belongings and that this has caused you a fair amount of aggravation. Since you refer to your neighbors as ‘owners,’ I assume that you are in a building consisting of condominiums, cooperative apartments or another similar form of property ownership,” says Stuart Lieberman, Esq., a founding shareholder attorney with the law firm of Lieberman & Blecher, P.C. in Princeton. “If that assumption is correct, then the hallway is most likely a common area that should not be occupied by anyone's personal belongings. 

“In a condominium or similar forum of property structure, a common area is an area that services all of the units. For example, this might include parking lots, swimming pools, courtyards, and sidewalks. 

“When condominium community is located within single building, hallways and lobby areas are usually considered to be common areas. Therefore, under this form of ownership, the hallway in question is most likely meant for everyone to enjoy, meaning that no one has the right hog it with their personal effects. 

“If there is a covenants committee in place, you should file a complaint with the covenants committee. Most forms of common ownership, including condominiums and co-ops, have some sort of dispute resolution process in place that allows neighbors to raise the kinds of concerns put forward by the questioner in this instance. 

“Otherwise, if there is a building manager, ask the manager to have these unfriendly neighbors remove their personal belongings. The key to this is to document the transgressions by taking pictures and with the use of a witness or two. 

“This should probably take care of your problem.  If it doesn't, you may be able to file a lawsuit in your municipal court or a similar forum. However, this should be your very last resort and in all likelihood will not be necessary. At the end of the day, this is a question of how neighbors should treat each other. Since you will have to live in close proximity no matter what, it is best to keep your cool, try not to point an accusing finger, and remember that one attracts more flies with honey than with vinegar!”

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