It’s Not Enough to Knock

Dean M. Roberts in Legal/Financial on November 7, 2017

New York City

Dean Roberts
Nov. 7, 2017

This article appears in the November special issue of Habitat, "Governing Powers Through a Legal Lens."

When can a board gain access to shareholders’ apartments? Under the laws of New York State, the standard is a “reasonable” one. In essence, that means if a co-op gives 24 hours’ notice for an inspection or a week’s notice for repairs, the shareholder is obligated to provide access.

This standard is supported by case law. While access is normally not a problem, you often find that it becomes an issue when coupled with other conditions, such as hoarding, a leak, or an illegal sublet. But it is a problem around which both boards and management need to be very careful. Under the law and the terms of most proprietary leases, a co-op has an absolute right to enter apartments. However, just like a pedestrian with the right of way, this is a right you should exercise with some caution. I advise clients that forced entry into an apartment should be a last resort. The co-op board should make every effort to provide 24 hours’ notice for an inspection or a week’s notice for repairs whenever possible.

If there is an emergency, you should attempt to get some type of governmental intervention (the police or fire department). That shows you were acting responsibly, and it will protect the managing agent, the co-op, and the building employees from any legal liability that may arise.

One issue to remember when a co-op board or its representatives gain access to an apartment is a possible claim that property was stolen. It is not unheard of for people to claim a Rembrandt or a gold coin collection is suddenly missing. So I advise all my co-op clients to have a basic protocol about access that includes having at least two co-op representatives in the apartment at all times. Exercise a high level of caution when entering shareholders’ apartments.

Dean M. Roberts is a partner in the law firm of Norris McLaughlin & Marcus.

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