Case Notes in

Bylaws/House Rules

First published: Oct 2023
A Board Decision That Holds

TAKEAWAY Boards retain broad discretion to enforce the rules and regulations of the building in different ways, as long as they do not single out a shareholder for “harmful or selective enforcement” and otherwise act in what they believe to be the best interests of the cooperative. Special arrangements with shareholders should be memorialized in writing in the interests of both parties in order to avoid questions from future boards who may not have been parties to the initial agreement. The purchasers might also have investigated with the prior owner or the co-op before purchasing to see whether the board had approved the installation of the jacuzzi.

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First published: Jul 2022
Bd. Of Mgrs. Of 207-209 E. 120th St. Condo. V. Dougan

This case is a stark reminder to condominiums that many of their bylaws do not provide the right for the condominium to recover attorney’s fees when a unit owner defaults on a non-monetary obligation. Boards should look to amend these provisions to allow for legal fee recovery since there are many common situations where a condominium board is forced to bring action to enjoin a non-monetary default (unauthorized alterations, illegal use, unreasonable noise, and short-term rentals are just a few).

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First published: Apr 2022
Heywood Condominium v. Steven Wozencraft

Governance of a condominium can be difficult, as the board does not have the same remedies as in a cooperative. This being the case, every condo board should review the house rules and bylaws to ensure that it has all of the possible remedies that might be available. Careful review of the provisions in regard to the non-payment of common charges is very important, and it should be clear in the governing documents that if a unit-owner is in arrears, nonessential services, including the use of amenities (such as a gym or pool or rooftop garden), will not be available to that unit-owner. It is best to review all remedies in the governing documents, including those involving other day-to-day violations of the house rules and bylaws, such as smoking, noise and odor complaints.

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First published: May 2018
Ran v. Weiner

Whether shareholders can enforce house rules against other shareholders is not something many attorneys address directly when drafting or vetting a co-op client’s house rules. But, as this case demonstrates, it is important. Shareholders should understand that they can pursue a claim directly against a neighbor if that neighbor breaches the proprietary lease, but they must also understand the co-op/landlord’s role. This decision seems to say that the house rule would apply only if a shareholder leaked water into a common area. The co-op, as one of the parties to that specific lease, presumably could require the shareholder to pay for any damages. But the finding that shareholders cannot enforce house rules against each other would arguably apply to all house rules. Ran has filed an appeal. Assuming it goes forward, it will be interesting to see what the appellate court decides. Meanwhile, boards may want to rethink how they draft certain house rules.

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First published: Feb 2018
Olszewski v. Cannon Point Association Inc.

House rules are a funny thing. Many co-ops and condos begin with a standard form. It’s probably best not to adopt a standard form without carefully considering whether specific rules are applicable to the circumstances of your cooperative or condominium. And because the rules are incorporated into a proprietary lease or bylaws, violating them can cause the default of a governing document. The rules should clearly state what is intended, and not just be copied from another building’s. This is an issue boards and their attorneys face frequently. We believe this court clearly laid out the issues. When people buy into a planned community, they give up certain of their individual rights and interests for the benefit of everyone. But people also purchase knowing that the lease or bylaws form a contract, which can be amended by a supermajority of owners, not by board fiat. So while a board’s right to adopt rules is important, it cannot alter the contract that the owners signed when they purchased. Some rules are clearly not consistent with the bylaws or proprietary lease. Boards must look closely. Does the proposed rule conflict with the bylaws or other governing documents? If so, should the board propose it to the owners as a bylaw or lease amendment, rather than face opposition? Considering these questions in advance can avoid acrimonious and costly challenges down the road.

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First published: Sep 2015
Newman v. 911 Alwyn Owners Corp.

The board’s actions here raise questions that the court never addresses. The decision refers to the board’s conclusion – after the second round of bids were received – that the co-op would be better off financially if it leased, rather than sold, the areas. However, there can be no question that the board considered these issues prior to its announcement that bids would be solicited; indeed, it even had the spaces appraised. The court never discusses the board’s stated reason for this change of heart (if it stated a reason). This was a motion to dismiss – early in the proceeding, before any discovery took place. The court’s decision, however, indicates that even given this seeming lack of explanation, the plaintiffs simply could not demonstrate the elements necessary to sustain a breach of fiduciary duty or breach of contract cause of action. In a situation like this – where a board acted within the bounds of the law but, perhaps, in a manner disagreeable to certain apartment owners – the owners may be best served by seeking relief not from the courts but by running for the board or campaigning against the reelection of the board members to cause a change to the lease/sale policy.

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First published: May 2015
Jasinski v. Hudson Pointe Homeowners Association

Although this case ultimately turned on ownership of a road that ran through an HOA, it raises a broader issue that we regularly see in co-ops, condos, and HOAs. Often, the board and management may think that a rule exists, in part, because it has been followed for years. However, when the rule is broken and an apartment owner challenges it, the board may discover that the rule doesn’t actually say what everyone thought it said. Or, in some instances, a rule that has been enforced may never have been actually formally adopted. This case is yet another example of why boards and management should review their governing documents and rules to make sure the documents say what is intended and, if not, to take steps to bring them up to date so they reflect current building practice (and the current state of the often-changing law). Although it may not be practical to adopt some amendments (if a vote of a super-majority of apartment owners is required to make the change), review of the documents may still be a worthwhile, and informative, exercise.

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