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Solving Neighbor Nuisances: 3 Simple Rules to Help a Board Do It Fairly

Michael D. Montag in Board Operations on May 25, 2012

New York City

May 25, 2012

In fact, most proprietary leases / governing documents have little to say specifically about what owners can and cannot do.  Most do, however, have a provision that forbids "nuisances," and usually specifies that owners may not engage in "noxious or offensive" activities.  
Of course, what constitutes noxious or offensive is left to the imagination, and could conceivably include any number of behaviors that can't be seen, heard or smelled outside the confines of the offending owner's unit.  In addition, most condominium documents regulate noise in one way or another and, increasingly, many condominiums ban or heavily limit smoking (in units as well as in common elements).  
Though volumes could be written about smoking, noise or standing on your patio without pants, for now, here are three general tips for how a condo / co-op / board can handle nuisance situations.
First, the board should be reasonable. The board will be put in the position to decide whether its fellow owners and friends are acting appropriately. It should take this responsibility seriously, and members should check their emotions and personal relationships at the door.
Second, it should be predictable. It should make sure owners know what they can and can't do.  This means, for example, if the governing documents prohibit excessive noise, but don't define what that means, the board should adopt rules that set specific quiet hours.  
Predictability also requires evenhandedness. The board should not crack down on incense that wafts into the common area from one unit but ignore the marijuana billowing from another.  
Lastly: It should know its role. Sometimes, two neighbors just don't like each other and will always find something to report to the board. That doesn't mean the board is always responsible for solving their problems. As I mentioned before, if the governing documents don't mention it, then it isn't the board's business.  
However, see rule number one: If there is something reasonable the board can do — even if it doesn't have to — that will improve the situation, it should do it.  

Michael Montag

Michael Montag is a partner in the law firm Vial Fotheringham and a member of the Community Associations Institute. This is adapted from an article that originally appeared at his law firm's blog.

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