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.
Engage, enrage, ask questions and give answers with your community of board members. Submit your questions and comments here!
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?