New York's Cooperative and Condominium Community

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Co-Op Board's Carpet Rule Poses Dilemma for Allergy Sufferers

New York City

Noise complaints, house rules, co-op and condo boards, reasonable accommodations.

Tax Day is upon us once again, a timely reminder that for co-op and condo boards there are three eternal verities: death, taxes and noise complaints.

This was brought home by a woman with allergies so severe that she had to remove the carpets from her apartment years ago. In an effort to downsize, she recently bought a ground-floor co-op apartment with beautiful hardwood floors — only to learn after paying a deposit that the house rules require wall-to-wall carpeting, with padding, in all rooms except kitchens and bathrooms, even in ground-floor apartments. This rule is designed to short-circuit the most common headache for co-op and condo boards: noise complaints between neighbors. Though at least two other apartments in the building have no carpets, the woman fears that raising the issue with the co-op board might kill the sale and force her to lose the deposit and the apartment. What's a person to do?

Requirements that co-op units be carpeted, typically in order to minimize the noise of everyday life being heard in other apartments, are common, replies the Ask Real Estate column in The New York Times. Many such rules require that at least 80% of the floor space is covered by rugs or carpets. Severe allergies might be a defense against such a rule, but the availability of hypoallergenic carpets could complicate that claim, says Marc Schneider, managing partner at the law firm Schneider Buchel.

Fair housing laws require housing providers, including co-op and condo boards, to make reasonable accommodations when a disability inhibits a person’s use and enjoyment of a dwelling. An allergy sufferer could request a waiver for the carpet rule, including a doctor’s note with the request.

“However,” Schneider notes, “we have had this issue come up many times in the past, and my experience tells me there are hypoallergenic carpets available, which would then make the accommodation unreasonable and not required to be granted by the co-op’s board of directors.”

If a shareholder's or unit-owner's allergies are especially bad, a doctor could explain to the board why she must have hardwood floors and why a hypoallergenic carpet wouldn’t work for her, says Lisa Smith, a partner at the law firm Smith Gambrell Russell.

Another consideration: co-op and condo boards are required to treat all residents equally, so pointing out that two other apartments do not have wall-to-wall carpeting might inspire the board to make an exception to the house rule. And, Smith adds, there might not be a problem if no one complains about noise coming from those hardwood floors in the ground-floor apartment.

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Learn all the basics of NYC co-op and condo management, with straight talk from heavy hitters in the field of co-op or condo apartments

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