If you want to understand the importance of an iron-clad alteration agreement in New York City co-ops or condos, look no farther than the Emery Roth-designed co-op at 59 West 12th Street in Greenwich Village.
In 2016, Academy Award-winning actress Marisa Tomei combined two units there into a sprawling, 2,265-square-foot apartment with two bedrooms, two bathrooms, a 200-square-foot walk-in closet, and a wood-burning fireplace. The alteration was not smooth. Three downstairs neighbors, including schlockmeister filmmaker John Waters, claimed in a lawsuit that Tomei’s negligence led to $128,000 in water damage to their apartments. Tomei told Elle Decor magazine that the alteration project left her “scarred” and “exhausted.”
“There is a lot of litigation involved in combining apartments, but that can all be avoided with a proper alteration agreement,” says attorney Adam Leitman Bailey, head of his eponymous firm, who insists on a non-negotiable checklist for all apartment combination projects. “Boards should not be nervous. The key is to do preparation before beginning the alteration to prevent litigation.”
An alteration agreement, he says, should set fees, spell out the scope of the work, demand proper insurance protection for the board, building and residents, allow the board’s architect to inspect the work in progress, and set a completion date, including fines if the job runs overtime.
“It’s very simple,” says Bailey. “There is no negotiation in this. I have never seen anyone debate signing it. They follow the rules because if they don’t, the board won’t allow the alteration.”
Two years after the demolition-induced lawsuit, Tomei appears to have recovered from the scars and exhaustion. According to Curbed, she has just put the combined apartment on the market for the handsome sum of $7.5 million.
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