House rules can govern everything from the size of your dog to when the gym is open, but there’s another space where residents may not be aware of the long arm of the co-op board: the lobby. While most owners probably don’t give the lobby more than a passing glance on their way in and out of the building, it turns out that some boards are hyper-focused on this common space. And if you think there isn’t much a board can control when it comes to one of the most public spaces in their building, you’d be wrong.
“[Boards decide] whether they have furniture, what kind of furniture – and whether they deliberately get furniture that’s not particularly comfortable,” says attorney Abbey Goldstein, a partner at Goldstein & Greenlaw. “This happens often in buildings with elderly populations.”
While that sounds as if it verges on discrimination, the reality is it’s more of a “quiet enjoyment” issue. “People on the first floor don’t want people sitting [in the lobby] and making noise,” says Goldstein. “I’ve had situations where they had to pass rules limiting the time that a person could sit on the furniture, because one man just spent most of the day in the lobby, addressing everybody who would come in to the building.”
There are very few real restrictions on board power when it comes to common areas. The most obvious is not creating policies that target a specific resident, says Goldstein, but boards should also be aware of flouting discrimination or accessibility laws.
“I’ve had a legal issue though where you have an accommodation for a dog,” says Goldstein, “and then as part of the accommodation you try to limit them to come around the back way. The Human Rights Commission took the position that we couldn’t do that; they said there was no objective reason [to restrict the dog].”
And then there are rumors of draconian rules, such as a ban on jeans or Starbucks cups in the lobby. “I haven’t heard about the Starbucks one,” admits Goldstein, “and I think it would be totally improper – particularly because I own a hundred shares of Starbucks. So I would have to take a tough stand on it.”