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Forbidden Guests

We just bought an apartment in Gramercy Park as a pied-à-terre. We made it very clear that it was not our primary residence, and that we would be using it once or twice a month. We asked for the rules regarding guests and were given the house rules, which stated that guests could stay no longer than 30 days, and that the guests’ names and information needed to be submitted to the managing agent so that the doorman had all the info. We closed two months ago, and have been enjoying the apartment. I called the managing office to say that a friend of mine was going to stay for a night, and asking where to send the information. I was informed that the board “just” passed new rules and regulations, and that no guests were allowed when the owner was not in residence. Is this allowed?

Steve Rosenstein
Before jumping to any conclusions, I would contact the board president to find out if the guest policy was recently changed. You might also ask for a printed copy of the revised house rules. If the house rules were changed to a no-guest-without-owner policy, check your proprietary lease. If there is anything in the lease about guests, I believe it trumps (i.e., “you’re fired”) the house rules.

If that doesn’t work, politely ask the board president for the reason the policy was changed, and explain your situation to her/him. You may find that the rules were changed because of the advent of AirBNB, Craigslist, and the other venues where apartment owners “rent” out their apartments to strangers for very short periods of time to generate income. This is almost certainly against the rules for subletting. I realize this is not your case, but unfortunately the proliferation of these illegal sublets has caused boards to become much more restrictive with their guest policies.

As a board member, I recommend that you approach this with the idea that you and the board will be able to work out a compromise. If you can come up with ways of differentiating your situation from short-term rentals to strangers, propose them to the board. You may have to provide background info about your guests and the board may want to meet with them before they stay in your apartment for the first time. You might even offer to pay for the managing agent to run a background check on your guests. This is not prying, but the board’s way of protecting the safety and security of the other shareholders. I would do this in my building.

I totally understand why the board is doing this. In our interview they talked about the New York City hotel law, and that people were breaking the law by renting out their apartments. The thing is that we also made it clear in our interview, against the advice of our realtor (!), that we wanted to be able to have family and friends use the apartment occasionally, since it was not our primary residence. I feel like they must have known that they were contemplating this move, and I feel duped that they didn’t tell us. I did ask for the new policy in writing, and it’s very clear. It says, “Under no circumstances is a Guest permitted unless you are in residence.” It seems really so sad that, since we aren’t “In Residence” most of the time, we can’t occasionally let our close friends and families enjoy the property we just purchased. I will look at the lease, and if that doesn’t work, I’ll try to reach out to the board.

I am a board president of a 111-unit co-op in Inwood. I would check your proprietary lease as well. This is usually more difficult to change and usually governs. Finally, since you just bought and the board did not disclose its new policy to you (or contemplated new policy), ask for an exception (in writing) as a way to smooth things over.

Carl Tait (CDT)
It would be quite unusual for a co-op to allow guests to stay in your apartment when you aren’t there. This is often spelled out explicitly in the proprietary lease, and you should check yours to see what it says. If your lease explicitly allows you to have guests in your absence, which is possible but unlikely, then it’s not clear the board would be able to override that provision with a house rule. The permission to have guests at arbitrary times could be considered a material term of the lease. You’d need to ask a lawyer about that.

You might try to work out a compromise with your board. If you can limit your stay-alone guests to one family (for example), you might find that the board is willing to make an exception. “My sister Mayella and her husband would like to stay in the apartment for two weeks every summer” is much more appetizing than “Random friends of my choice will be living here in my absence whenever I feel like it.”

Also, don’t try to argue that you shouldn’t be bound by a new house rule you didn’t expect. That argument is going to lose.

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