New York's Cooperative and Condominium Community

Habitat Magazine Insider Guide



CASE IN POINT: Bylaw Provisions Can Spell Out Who Pays Attorney Fees 

James Woods

Managing Partner, Woods Lonergan


All blocked up. A problem came up at a luxury condo in Brooklyn where the bathroom ventilation stopped working in some apartments. The experts who were brought in found a blockage, and identified the floor and apartment where it was originating from. The board sent several notices to the unit-owner asking to go inside, but the unit-owner was uncooperative. Eventually it was determined that a good deal of unauthorized work had been done in the bathroom, including rerouting the vent, which was creating the blockage.


A flaw in the bylaws.The board decided to go to court since it had a strong case given the unauthorized alterations, and it assumed it could saddle the unit-owner with its attorney fees. The court sided with the board and set up a plan for the repairs that had to be made, which included the unit-owner paying for the engineers, contractor and other professionals the board had to hire. The condo’s bylaws were specific about recouping legal fees from unit-owners for not paying common charges, but they were not clear about non-monetary violations. And when bylaws are ambiguous, the court will typically side with unit-owners.


Put provisions in place. This board was lucky. The court brokered a deal where the board got more than half of its attorney fees, which totaled about $12,000. Needless to say, changes to the bylaws were made shortly after. All condo boards should have their attorneys look at their documents to ensure there are provisions about recovering legal fees. That way, they’ll know they are covered. 

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?