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The New Rules of Renovating: Part One – The Problem

So what are the new renovation rules going to do for – or against – me? That’s what you’re probably asking.  In case you haven’t heard, recently the Co-op and Condo Committee of the NYC Bar Association posted on its website a proposed new Alteration Agreement for co-ops.

What’s wrong with the old rules, you may be thinking, assuming you know what they are in your building. The supposed rationale for the new ones is the need to protect against overzealous renovators.  The same rationale was advanced the last time the Agreement was revamped a decade back – only then it was because so many young Turks were flush with investment banking cash they poured it into remaking their newly-acquired apartments, and now it’s because renovating is cheaper than buying – at least in theory.

The whole thing is a case of trickle-down economics. Right now most buildings are focused on paying their bills, so shelling out thousands to counsel to revise renovation agreements isn’t necessarily high on the agenda – not saying it shouldn’t be just that it probably isn’t unless there’s been a recent alteration debacle.  So you can bet it will take awhile for all this to filter down to your building unless you reside in one of those Rolls Royce towers where money is no object, and renovations are rampant.

Before you can decide if the proposed changes (tomorrow’s topic) make sense, you need to understand that renovations in High Rise Society can be a test of wills. Here’s how the battle lines are drawn:

Shareholders don’t like to take no for an answer even if it’s the only rational response. They’ll insist on combining adjacent apartments even though there’s a structural wall between them whose removal could jeopardize the integrity of the building – so long as their apartment is still standing. Or why not punch a few skylights through the roof, no matter that the improvement may increase property taxes for all their fellow owners. Or they’ll demand more electricity so they can stay constantly wired, even if the building only gets a finite amount of juice and they have to siphon some off from somebody else.

And what was good today, won’t suffice tomorrow, which means building decks so heavy they’ll crash through the apartment below or claiming a piece of someone else’s terrace so they can install an air conditioning unit on the roof. (See, Border Wars) Most of all — ten years ago just as now — they want greenhouses, no matter that they never grew anything other than a mustache, because they’re the surest way to create immediate apartment envy.

Even if the board says “no,” owners may try a green handshake to get the super to say “yes” – to installing non-compliant ceiling lights or questionable plumbing or doing something else they know they shouldn’t be doing. Don’t tell me you, or someone you know, hasn’t tried.

If that doesn’t work, shareholders may take things into their own hands, defying the approved plans and resorting to guerilla renovations. They swear on the Bible they’re putting in a bathtub, then turn around and install a whirring Jacuzzi, or promise they’re slapping on a coat of paint, then break through the walls to install new cabinets, severing the gas riser in the process.

On the other side of the divide are boards – they want to stop rogue renovating that could damage the building and other shareholders’ apartments, to say nothing of their state of mental wellbeing. So far so good.

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