As gasoline prices rise with increasing summer demand, building administrators' attention has turned sharply to the cost of energy, and ways to trim fat from their overall energy budgets.
Yet for the nation’s nearly 60 million condo dwellers, considering newer energy-saving options can be a tricky proposition at best. While some condos and co-ops move rapidly to adopt the latest green technologies, many building communities, still governed by documents drafted decades or even whole generations ago, may be burdened with legal language that expressly prohibits them from making a variety of environmentally-friendly updates.
Has your building gone green? And, if not, how green can you go?
“I think what you’re seeing is just the beginning of those types of questions arising for [condo] associations,” says Mitchell Frumkin, president of Kipcon, Inc., a New Jersey-based engineering and consulting firm that provides condo reserve and transition studies. “As we go into the future, and people are looking more at the sustainable options such as solar panels, you’re going to see more of that because it’s affecting the common elements of the community.”
But How Will It Look?
Green usually sounds very appealing—at least in theory. The problems, experts note, arise from the unique legal aspects of a condo community. In apartment buildings and similar forms of high-density housing, property ownership is clearly defined through the traditional landlord/tenant relationship. Not so with condo and co-op properties, and many experienced managers can speak to the unusual ownership questions that sometimes arise. A solar panel, for expample, would have to be placed on the roof or walls of the building, in a limited common area which is owned by the community or shareholders; or in an area owned by an individual member; and it is up to the board to get everyone to agree to the installation.
Alan Goldberg, Esq., of the Chicago law firm of Arnstein & Lehr, LLP., explains that, "Condominium association boards certainly can, and sometimes do, have architectural or construction approval committees, which must approve any alterations to a unit and the limited common element areas adjacent to and for the use of the unit owner. These restrictions are often very limiting by nature, and a committee’s decision to permit modifications or additions can be quite subjective. An architectural control committee may not like the “look” of a solar panel installation either on an existing residence, or a row of panels on the lot placed in the ground facing skyward."