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Who Needs to Fix the Scalding-Hot Shower, Shareholder or Co-op Board?

New York City

Shareholder rights, co-op board responsibilities, proprietary lease, warranty of habitability.
Aug. 8, 2023

Q: We live in a co-op in Midtown East. In the past few months, the amount of cold water in our shower has diminished. The super had the tiles behind the bathroom sink removed to gain access to a water valve, which he said would fix the problem. But the problem is worse now — a scalding hot shower or no shower at all. Repairing it will entail removing the tiles in the shower. But this time, we're told, we will have to pay for the plumbing and tile work. We feel that providing usable shower water is the building’s responsibility and that the co-op should cover the cost. What are our rights in this situation?

A: Co-op residents are essentially owners and tenants at the same time — they own shares in the corporation that owns the building, but they rent their apartment from the corporation, replies the Ask Real Estate column in The New York Times. Usually, the co-op is responsible for the maintenance and repair of anything behind the walls (using your monthly maintenance fees, of course), while the shareholder is responsible for anything inside the unit, like the paint, tiling, and flooring. And remember: the shareholder is also responsible for all improvements made to the apartment by all previous shareholders. Nevertheless, every shareholder is legally entitled to a habitable apartment, which includes the ability to take a shower that doesn't result in third-degree burns.

Start by reading your co-op’s proprietary lease. It will outline which responsibilities fall on the co-op, and which fall on the shareholders. If the shower repair is in fact something that you are responsible for under the lease, then the co-op can charge you for the cost. However, proprietary leases cannot supersede the rights of residents to live in a habitable apartment.

Have a licensed plumber investigate the source of the problem, and ask around to see if your neighbors are having the same issue. If it’s not widespread, the co-op board could argue that it’s an issue with a shower head or faucet, which could be your responsibility, says Debra Guzov, founder of her eponymous Manhattan law firm. Or, if the plumbing needs to be repaired because of something a former occupant did to it, the co-op could hold you responsible.

If so, Guzov says, it’s still preferable to try to work something out with the co-op rather than making a complaint through 311 or hiring a lawyer — though they are also options you have. “It’s always best to try to negotiate a solution with the managing agent,” Guzov says.

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