Among a co-op board’s worst nightmares is getting dragged into disputes between neighbors, usually over noise, but potentially over just about anything. This one was about noise – plus cooking odors and obstructed views, for good measure.
A shareholder in a Westchester County co-op has an apartment with rear windows overlooking a small outdoor sitting area and, beyond it, a view of woods that are home to birds, squirrels, chipmunks and other delightful things to look at. Since spring, a new resident has been grilling in this outdoor sitting area, obliterating the bucolic view. After shareholders complained, the board insisted he move the grill 10 feet from the building. “He’s still out there daily with two grills, chairs and an enormous toy car,” writes the shareholder with the obstructed view of the woods. “He shouts and blasts his music. When I complained to management, I was told that he’s allowed to grill. But what about my comfort and my rights to use the space that he now dominates?”
The Ask Real Estate column in the New York Times, which never hesitates to wade into murky waters, replies: The board might think that it adequately addressed the problem when it told the neighbor to move the grill to a safer area. The space is a common area, and if grilling is permitted, the board may not be terribly concerned. Families are spending much more time at home, and this neighbor may simply be looking for ways to enjoy his summer. But the shareholder with the obstructed view is also home, and she’s entitled to the quiet enjoyment of her apartment. Therein lies the rub.
“If this shareholder is suffering from something that is being done on the cooperative property, the co-op has an obligation to address the issue,” says Steven Sladkus, a partner at the law firm Schwartz Sladkus Reich Greenberg Atlas.
Ask Real Estate advises the aggrieved shareholder to invite a board member or a building employee, such as the super, to come to her apartment when her neighbor is outside grilling so they can see and hear the disturbance directly. Or, show the board that she is not the only aggrieved resident, as it will be more likely to take action if this is a collective problem. It would help if other shareholders were willing to jointly sign a letter about the issue. A co-op might not be a pure democracy, but there is always strength in numbers.
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