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Dear Habitat

Dear Habitat

Our co-op requires licensed and insured plumbers to perform work on the premises. However, in order not to spend money, shareholders also sometimes get the superintendent to perform in-the-wall plumbing. This has resulted in several instances of subpar work that created damage and additional costs. Sometimes (if it is a board member), they will hire legal plumbers. Can we refuse to allow or permit illegal work in our apartments – work that creates possible liability for neighbors and may also not be covered by our own insurance or the co-op’s insurance? Can we require the co-op to send a legal plumber – as per city laws and co-op rules – when it is work that the co-op must perform?

Board decisions are normally protected by the Business Judgment Rule. However, if the board is using an unlicensed plumber where a licensed one is required, then it will not be protected. Additionally, most proprietary leases provide that the board has the right to access apartments on reasonable notice to make repairs. If a shareholder denies access for repairs, he or she could be sued for breach of the proprietary lease. If someone you believe to be unlicensed shows up at your door, immediately make your concerns known to management. If they refuse to pause work, put your concerns in writing to management and the board. If noncompliant and subpar work is being done on an ongoing basis, work with other shareholders to document these instances and demand a policy be adopted formally requiring the cooperative board to engage licensed and insured contractors.

Karol Robinson, Partner, Anderson Kill

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New York City law requires a licensed master plumber to do plumbing work within the walls of your apartment. Any resident could justifiably refuse access unless the co-op complies with this law. The co-op could attempt to gain access when the resident is not present but the co-op would be particularly unwise to risk that after the resident’s principled refusal, especially if well-documented. As a deterrent, you could put the board on notice that such illegal work could lead to claims against the co-op that its insurance carrier might refuse to cover; and you could attempt to use any subsequent refusal to comply as the basis for electing a new board. Also, the self-dealing component that you mention might expose board members to individual liability not indemnified by the co-op or its insurance carrier. If you mention that, the board might deem it wise to change this unlawful practice, especially because losses, and thus liability, from seemingly minor plumbing repairs could be substantial.

Robert Tierman, Partner, Litwin & Tierman

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Co-ops and condos routinely use building personnel to perform plumbing and electrical work, [because] the cost of a plumber or electrician can be significant. That said, whether or not the work being performed would require a [licensed] plumber or electrician definitely depends on the nature and extent of the work, as well as the ability and experience of the building’s personnel. Therefore, yes, you can refuse to allow repairs in your apartment by unlicensed professionals when city laws require that they be licensed. However, the fact that a repair is made behind the wall will not in all cases require such a professional. Before denying access, you may want to bring in your own engineer to render a definitive opinion.

Abbey Goldstein
Partner, Goldstein & Greenlaw

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