New York's Cooperative and Condominium Community

Habitat Magazine Insider Guide



The Power of the PW1

The Low-Down

Andrew P. Brucker: The primary responsibility of the board of a co-op or condo is to safeguard the integrity of the building and to ensure the safety of the occupants. It becomes problematic when there’s an alteration.

Under normal circumstances, the board would have the ability to restrain the shareholder or unit-owner from alterations that might harm the building or the people, but there is a special situation where sponsors are involved. Sponsors have certain rights that other unit-owners or shareholders do not have. Why is this a concern? Because if they have too many rights, and the alteration proceeds without a review of any sort, the alteration could be very extensive and affect other residents. For example, if they put in certain equipment, it might tax the building’s electrical system. Conventional thinking is that sponsors can do whatever they want when they are undertaking alterations, but this is not true. The rights of the sponsor are usually outlined in the offering plan, the bylaws, or the proprietary lease. Each document must be looked at because the integrity of the building is affected by what the alterations eventually end up being.

The Weigh-In

Phyllis H. Weisberg: We’ve received a number of calls from very unhappy board members saying the sponsor who owns the commercial unit has asked us to sign documents in connection with an alteration. The alterations range from putting in a pizza oven and moving a gas line to installing air conditioning in the ceiling and having it pierce the slab. In each case, the board found out about the alteration through the submission of a PW1 form, which is the permit application to the Department of Buildings (DOB) that requires a sign off by the co-op or condo.

It gets worse. In one recent case, a board discovered that a sponsor was doing alterations, which included coming into the residential space and moving electrical lines without prior notice. The board found out only when the superintendent said, “They’re doing alterations.” The board learned very quickly that the sponsor had filed a PW1 with the DOB but erroneously said he was the owner and filed without the co-op or condo’s second signature. Upon investigation, we learned that the sponsor was not only moving electrical lines but was altering the façade of the building, which is a common element, and was moving around structural elements and constructing structural beams.

The Outcome

Howard Schechter: The claim of the sponsor/commercial unit-owner that he could do this alteration without board approval was wrong. A careful review of the documents sometimes discloses restrictions, and these are sometimes found where you don’t necessarily expect them. That’s why you need to talk to the board’s attorney to evaluate these kinds of situations.  It’s important that you not sign a PW1 work application unless the application is complete, including all the plans being filed with it. In instances where consent of the board is not required, the sponsor or the commercial unit-owner will likely say, “I don’t have to give you plans. I’m not telling you what we’re doing.” But the legal requirement that the board sign the PW1 gives it the right to demand the plans.

The Take-Away

Boards should realize that they’re not without remedies to protect the building. They may have been advised by the sponsor’s managing agent or others that, “You have no right to interfere with sponsor work.” Just because you think that’s the rule doesn’t mean that it is, or that the scope of work that is permitted is what has gone on before. The board should make sure that it is carrying out its obligation to protect the building and the residents. Each application should be reviewed on its own merits to assure that the work being done will not harm the building and either does not require board consent, or that the consent has been given.

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