The five-page document was attached to a one-sentence email from the board inviting shareholders to the annual meeting. “Proposed Revised House Rules” detailed 30 do’s and don’ts for our Lower Manhattan co-op. In my building, I’m in the camp of longtime residents who know house rules exist somewhere but don’t pay close attention to them until a rule significantly improves or intrudes on our lives. Whenever the board emails us about the house rules, we tend to give those emails a quick glance, while newer shareholders tend to read them more thoroughly.
So I was surprised to see that everyone was paying close attention to the proposed revisions. I could tell because no sooner had the board’s email hit my inbox than reactions followed from shareholders of both stripes. Everyone was commenting about Rule No. 8, a noise-reduction policy that requires 80% of apartment floors be covered by carpeting.
“Draconian!” wrote one longtime shareholder. “An aesthetic imposition!” wailed another. The outrage subsided when more recent arrivals who had been keeping up with co-op business pointed out that they were aware the carpeting requirement was in the house rules when they moved in. Indeed, the back-and-forth ended with an email from the board assuring shareholders that Rule No. 8 is a standard provision. The email also explained that while it has been in place since the building went co-op in 1979, it has never had to be enforced but has always been a standby tool in the board’s resolution-dispute toolbox.
In my building, cooperation and courtesy tend to avert most trouble. When it comes to how we treat each other when dealing with issues like noise, smoking and trash, there is mostly good will between neighbors, and the board is rarely mustered to referee.
After my inbox stopped pinging, I thought back to my first years in the co-op, when we seemed to self-govern by common sense. Maybe that’s why I figured it was OK to put a kiddie pool on the building’s roof. At the time, the narrow outdoor space that is now a beautifully landscaped and comfortably appointed gathering place was just a few wooden planks. On hot summer mornings, I would head up with my toddlers and fill the pool using a nearby hose, and later empty the water into the rooftop floor drain. While pools are not mentioned in the 30 “Proposed Revised House Rules,” I’m pretty sure if someone tried this today, Rule No. 31 would be drafted before the first toe got wet.
When my children outgrew the pool, I assembled a hard plastic jungle gym, set it up in an alcove in the hallway so it wouldn’t block the stairwell door, and put fire-resistant padding on the floor and walls. I never thought of consulting the board, and my neighbors were all for it. Everyone was considerate about the hours they brought their children to play and how much noise was too much. Today I would be in violation of a handful of house rules — not to mention an armful of city codes.
My children are now grown, but I still seem to be adding to my co-op rap sheet. I leave my wet coat and shoes out in the hall, flouting Rule No. 4. On occasion, I violate Rule No. 7 by vacuuming after 11 p.m. And when my daughter comes to visit, I’ll play fetch in the hallway with her dog, a brazen violation of Rule No. 19, which permits animals in the building but not unleashed in the hallways.
As for Rule No. 8, I have no carpets on my floors. According to my downstairs neighbor, the only sound he hears is when I flush the toilet in the middle of the night. He, on the other hand, ignored at least three house rules the night he hosted a midweek party with live amplified music. But I didn’t report him to the board. I didn’t make a recording of noise traveling up to my place. I was downstairs in his apartment, dancing.