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Is It Kosher to Be Misleading at Your Co-op Board Interview?

New York City

Co-op board interview, co-op buyer, noise complaints, house rules.
March 29, 2023

Q: A co-op buyer plans to acquire a piano after she moves into her apartment. But she doesn't want to tell the co-op board about her plans during the interview, for fear of killing the sale. Is omitting such a fact kosher? And could the board stop her from playing the piano after she acquires it?

A: You should not lie to a co-op board at an interview, says the Ask Real Estate column in The New York Times. However you are not obligated to disclose future plans that may or may not come to pass.

Whatever building you choose will have rules about noise, and probably about what times you can practice instruments and for how long. Be sure to carefully read them before buying an apartment. Keep in mind that there are noise limits even within the permitted hours. “No matter what time it is, you can’t create disturbances in the building,” says Steven Sladkus, a founding partner at the law firm Schwartz Sladkus Reich Greenberg Atlas.

What you’re asking, however, is an ethical question. Are you being dishonest by not disclosing your intentions? It is possible to deliberately mislead a person without making false statements, but omitting goals is not necessarily misleading. It’s possible that you might not get the piano. It’s also possible that you could take up tap dancing, or ask a roommate who plays the trombone to move in with you, or have a child, or get a dog. Who knows what potentially noisy events life holds in store?

If you buy the piano two weeks after you move into the building, be prepared for some sideways glances from the board. Even if you buy it a year from now, people will likely take notice. “People’s antennae will be up,” Sladkus says.

Ask yourself: are you OK with that? “At the end of the day, they have to live with themselves,” says Taya R. Cohen, an associate professor of Organizational Behavior and Business Ethics at the Tepper School of Business at Carnegie Mellon University. “Is the person going to feel comfortable or are they going to feel guilty? How do they want to manage that? Will they later feel bothered?”

In other words, yes, there is room for ethical considerations in the world of New York City real estate.

If this omission will cost you a good night’s sleep, consider buying an apartment in a condo, which would not involve a cumbersome board interview. Or, buy a digital piano and practice with headphones, a solution that would make your neighbors happy. Or give up the piano, which would make them even happier.

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