Q&A: Structural Change Issues

Q Our original condo declaration, bylaws, amendments and house rules allow for renovations to interior units without board approval if they do not affect a common area or are not structural in nature. I installed a wall partition (does not affect a bearing wall) in the dining room, which has created an additional room. The condo attorney is arguing that when you change the “character” of a unit, this is considered structural. In addition the board is upset that the original floor plan has been altered. I am an investor in this complex. I do not intend to have overcrowding in the unit. The unit does have greater rent ability/potential for profit. I obtained all proper permits from the town for the wall partition. The condo attorney has since sent a cease and desist letter to the town to not issue such permits and certificates of compliance anymore. I intend to fight this issue by asking the court for a permanent injunction. Am I being reasonable? Is the condo attorney right that structure equals character?

—Condo Investor

A “The provisions of the condominium association’s master deed, bylaws and rules and regulations stated by the letter writer pertaining to alterations to the interior of a condominium unit are quite common and found in many documents,” says Donald M. Onorato, Esq., an attorney based in Hackensack. “The restriction on performing interior repairs and/or the need to obtain board approval is to prevent unit owners from making repairs to their units which affect the common elements. The board of directors is charged with maintaining the common elements, and if a unit owner performs work in a shoddy and/or unworkmanlike manner, it could affect the common elements or other units. The problem is exacerbated when damage occurs and the unit owner or its contractors do not possess insurance or sufficient insurance to cover the damage.

“In this case, I have not had an opportunity to review the governing documents to ascertain whether the changing of the ‘character’ of the unit which appears to be the addition of a bedroom in the unit is considered structural. In my opinion, without reviewing the governing documents, installation of a wall partition should not affect a bearing wall and is not a structural alteration. The fact that the letter writer may have obtained all proper permits from the town is irrelevant but only means that the work is permitted in accordance with town regulations and codes. However, the condominium association has a final say over the issue when rules have been promulgated such as the case at bar. I would suggest that the letter writer retain an attorney to review to governing documents to opine whether the changing of the ‘character’ of a unit is in fact a structural alteration.”

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