In recent years, an apartment-combining frenzy has swept New York City. As young couples opt to raise their children in the city instead of the suburbs, and as personal fortunes allow people to double – and triple – the size of their apartments, co-op and condo boards have responded by instituting strict alteration agreements to govern the combining of apartments.
What goes up must, of course, come down. Two shareholders who purchased their Upper West Side co-op in 1985 and then combined it with the neighboring unit in 1996 now wish to downsize. They pose this once-unthinkable question to the Ask Real Estate column in the New York Times: “Are there any city laws or codes that would prohibit us from re-dividing the apartments and returning them to their original configurations so that we could sell one and remain in the other?”
If the original modifications were straightforward – taking out a kitchen and opening a wall to connect the two apartments — undoing that work could be bearable, the Times replies. “Where things can get tricky is if major plan modifications have been made,” says Mauricio Salazar, an architect. If that is the case, the restored apartment needs to be brought back into compliance with city building codes and the state Multiple Dwelling Law.
Even a modest renovation means getting permission from the co-op board to do the work, a process that can be anything but simple. “There may be many hoops to jump through,” says attorney Andrew Brucker, a partner at Montgomery McCracken Walker & Rhoads. For example, you may need to obtain a letter stating that the share allocation between the two apartments is fair. And, as noted, most proprietary leases require shareholders to sign an alteration agreement with the board.
There is some good news. If the shareholders did not amend the building’s certificate of occupancy combining the apartments, they probably will not need to do so when they re-divide them, saving a bureaucratic headache. Nevertheless, given the other potential pitfalls ahead, shareholders planning to downsize should hire an experienced architect or engineer with an expediter on staff to help navigate the process.
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