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How a Dream Terrace Became a Financial Nightmare

Upper East Side

Terrace Repairs

July 12, 2017 — Removing mature trees and shrubs isn’t easy or cheap. Who pays?

A penthouse with a terrace is the dream of many New York City co-op and condo dwellers. Be careful what you wish for. A dream terrace can turn into a nightmarish financial burden.

Two decades ago, a man bought a condo penthouse apartment on the Upper East Side that features a 1,200-square-foot landscaped terrace – which is much larger than many of this city’s shoebox apartments. As the years passed, the trees and shrubs on this large terrace grew and grew.

The condo board recently announced that it was undertaking a capital project that included renovation of the terrace. In order for the work to proceed, all planters had to be removed. But because the trees and shrubs had become so big and heavy, it would have been impossible to move them. The unit-owner’s only option was to spend $8,000 to destroy the containers and remove the plants. After the renovation is complete, replacing his rooftop jungle would cost an estimated $12,000. Which leads us to the inevitable question: who’s responsible for these costs, the unit-owner or the condo board?

Usually a terrace is considered “a limited common element,” meaning that the board is responsible for maintaining and repairing the structure, while the unit-owner is responsible for maintaining what’s on it, real estate lawyer Rachel Sigmund tells the Ask Real Estate column in the New York Times. In other words, the unit-owner would have to pay to remove the planters and their contents and to replace them, while the board would have to pay to repair the terrace structure.

All is not lost. Homeowner’s insurance might cover the cost of demolishing and replacing the planters; the board might chip in, too. “I have heard of buildings paying for the demolition,” says Amber Freda, a landscape designer. However, she adds, “I have not ever heard of a building paying for a new garden after the renovations are completed.”

The board might also reimburse the unit-owner for expenses not covered by insurance, Sigmund says, particularly if the work is mandated by a city rule such as Local Law 11.

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