Living by the Rules Making—and Enforcing—House Rules

It’s a common bit for comedians and TV sitcoms: making fun of the ‘condo police’—those neighbors who take it upon themselves to enforce the rules set up by your condominium association or co-op corporation to regulate community living. They are sticklers for detail: Is your mailbox at the right height? Do you have contraband plantings in your flowerbeds? Are your window treatments approved in terms of both color and configuration?

Funny or not (and depending on how you feel about having to get approval to repaint your shutters, it may not be), in reality, co-ops and condos have rules—lots of them—and for good reason. Successful community living requires structure. Some regulations appear in your governing documents—the bylaws, usually—while others are found in less formal documents outlining ‘house rules.’ In any event, the question is how these rules are enforced, and who does the enforcing.

Defining Rules & Regulations

“The board has a fiduciary duty to enforce the association’s documents,” says attorney Mark R. Rosenbaum with Fischel & Kahn, Ltd. in Chicago. “You should review your association documents and rules to determine the mechanism to trigger a formal review of any problems you are having. Whatever the process, it should require the board and/or managing agent to at least investigate the issues and make a determination as to whether further action is needed. Such formal action could range from fines to—in especially severe cases—forced sale of the [offending] neighbors’ unit. If no action is taken on a formal ‘complaint,’ the association rules may at least require the board/agent to respond...with an explanation of why no action is being taken.” 

Mark Hakim is an attorney specializing in co-op and condominium law with the firm of Schwartz Sladkus Reich Greenburg & Atlas, based in New York City. “The house rules in a co-op or condominium are rules and regulations promulgated by the board, and amended from time to time,” he says. “They’re intended for the general welfare of the residents of the building. They include—but are certainly not limited to—pets, sublets, smoking, use of the hallways and common areas, carpeting, windows, plantings, noise, and other quality of life matters. 

“In co-ops, a breach of the house rules is generally a breach of the proprietary lease, permitting the board to treat it as such,” Hakim continues. “In a condominium, one would need to review the bylaws to see what rights the board may have. In both, how each is drafted and whether the lease and/or bylaws permit fines will determine what the board may do, short of drastic measures.”

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