Feb. 11, 2011 — Read the first in a series of easy Q&A guides to co-op / condo buying, selling and owning
Q. What are house rules?
A. "House rules" are rules governing day-to-day things you can and cannot do or have in a particular co-op or condo building. These typically cover things like laundry-room hours; separating your recycling; being allowed to have pets, to sublet or to take out a reverse mortgage; days and hours for move-ins and -outs; and fines for when rules get broken.
What's tricky is that "house rules" is an informal term, and can encompass rules found in different, separate documents.
Q. Where can I find the house rules?
A. Because "house rules" is an informal term, it might refer to rules scattered throughout several documents. A good co-op or condo board will have them all gathered in one place so that any resident can read them.
For co-ops, rules can appear in the proprietary lease, which is the main underlying document that covers all aspects of the building's conversion to co-op. For condos, rules can appear in the main governing document, called the declaration of covenants, conditions and restrictions, or CC&R.
In both cases, these are usually "big-picture" rules involving things as complex as transfer of shares to family members or right of first refusal when a condo unit-owner wants to sell. Rules might also appear in a variety of other documents.
But the more everyday rules that we colloquially think of as "house rules" generally appear in two places:
As you can see, confusingly, there can be a board's "house rules" in addition to other, bigger rules, in other documents, that also apply to your "house" and might be referred to colloquially as "house rules."
Q. Does it take a majority of board members to pass one of those everyday house rules?
A. No. As with most things a board may vote on, it just needs a majority of a quorum. For example, with a nine-member board, you normally need five votes for a majority when all members attend a meeting. But a meeting can be held with just a quorum -- five -- and a majority of their votes – three – can pass a house rule.
In practice, a good board will not pass everyday house rules without a full board vote. Aside from any other consideration, the majority of a full board might simply overturn a house rule passed the above way.
Q. Are there "house rules" that aren't really house rules?
A. As if all the above weren't enough, some things in a building that have been done for years out of custom may be considered "house rules" even though no one voted for them and they have no legal standing. For example, a board may believe there is a house rule that 80 percent of a floor must be covered by carpet – which is typical of co-op proprietary leases. But in fact, the condo governing documents may say nothing at all about that, and the board itself never bothered to make this a formal, voted-on rule.
The lesson here is, don't simply take someone's word for whether something is a house rule: If an issue gets contentious or unreasonable, ask to see where it says this in a governing document, or to see in the board minutes where this house rule was voted on and passed.
Thinking of buying a co-op or condo? Already bought, and not sure how co-op/condo life and rules work? Learn all about purchasing a place and living in your new community. It's not like renting, and its not like owning a house. What's it like?