New York's Cooperative and Condominium Community

Habitat Magazine Insider Guide




Co-op Board Fights to Keep Its 90-Year-Old Laundry Room

Marianne Schaefer in Building Operations on March 5, 2020

Lower East Side, Manhattan

Certificate of Occupancy, laundry room, sprinklers, building code, DOB violations, co-op board.
March 5, 2020

The board and property manager at the 236-unit Lower East Side co-op can be excused for having a sense of deja vu all over again. In 2015, the co-op received a violation from the Department of Buildings (DOB) for having a laundry room that was not on the building’s Certificate of Occupancy, which was issued in 1954. But the laundry room was installed when the building was built in 1929 – nine years before Certificates of Occupancy came into existence – so the board argued that the laundry room should be grandfathered and allowed to continue to operate. The hearing judge agreed. 

Last year, another DOB inspector came to the building to oversee resumption of gas service to an apartment that had recently been sold. While walking through the laundry room, the inspector noticed there were no sprinklers. After learning that the building’s C of O made no mention of a laundry room, he conducted a more thorough inspection and issued seven violations – for a lack of a C of O and sprinklers, and for illegal gas piping and vents

“I explained to the inspector that we were in court in 2015 for the very same issue, and the judge ruled in our favor,” says the co-op’s property manager, Isaac Katz, head of management at A.M. Katz. “He would not be swayed, and we had to go to court again.” 

DOB spokesman Andrew Rudansky says the department is not cracking down on illegal laundry rooms, but merely enforcing new laws passed by the city council in 2016 in the wake of deadly gas explosions. “The Department of Buildings enforces regulations for gas plumbing and automatic sprinkler systems,” Rudansky says. “Illegally constructed laundry rooms, without the proper safety features and department inspections, can pose a serious fire hazard.” 

The city requires an amended C of O any time work alters a building’s “use, occupancy or egress” – even if the building was built before 1938. So the Lower East Side co-op had to prove, for a second time, that the laundry room was not illegal because it was part of the original construction, even though it is not listed on the C of O. 

“The C of O violation was for a change of use,” says the co-op’s attorney, Devin Ness of Anderson Kill, who represented the co-op before the Office of Administrative Trials and Hearings (OATH) in early January. “Our argument was that there was never any change, that the laundry room has always been there. There has been no change of use, and only a change of use would have required an amendment to the C of O.” 

Amending a C of O, a potentially expensive process, involves clearing any outstanding violations on the property and closing any open permits. Often, residents alter their apartments and never close out the permit. 

“Even though we could not obtain the original building plans from 1929, which would have conclusively shown that the laundry room was part of the original construction, we found a profile of the property in a magazine called Architectural Forum from February of 1931,” Ness says. “That article noted that there was a large laundry room as an amenity for the residents. We presented that and affidavits from residents who have lived in the building their entire lives. They remembered as far back as the 1950s that the laundry room had been in its current location. That proved that this was not a recently installed, illegal laundry room.” 

The hearing judge ruled that the C of O does not need to be amended and that the laundry room is exempt from the sprinkler requirement, which was part of a 1968 revision to the building code. The remaining five violations will be addressed at an OATH hearing on April 9. 

“Even though we’re not legally required to have a sprinkler system, we will probably install one anyway,” says Katz. “It’s an extra safety measure, and hopefully when the next inspector comes, he will not get suspicious right away.” 

And hopefully this co-op board will not get yet another sense of deja vu all over again. 

Ask the Experts

learn more

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

Professionals in some of the key fields of co-op and condo board governance and building management answer common questions in their areas of expertise

Source Guide

see the guide

Looking for a vendor?