Q: During the pandemic, some people at my Manhattan cooperative left town to find a second home. The board of directors was concerned that shareholders were not allowing visitors to stay in the empty apartments, and issued a new rule: shareholders must now apply for approval for each overnight guest. I understand the concern, but this rule appears to be beyond the authority of the board. Do I have to ask for permission if I want an overnight guest to stay with me? As a single woman, I am uncomfortable with this invasion of my privacy.
ONE: Your cooperative cannot prevent guests from spending the night in your apartment. The Real Estate Act, a state rule, allows you to have an additional resident as long as you use the apartment as your primary residence. Overnight guests are considered inmates according to the law. "You can have a roommate and you can have guests," said Steven R. Wagner, a Manhattan real estate attorney.
Cooperatives have historically restricted visitors when the owners are out of town, but the ins and outs of the situation are important: the board of directors could certainly step in if someone rents their apartment on Airbnb, as the apartment building law is less prohibiting apartment rental than 30 days, unless the resident of the apartment is present. However, if one of your neighbors leaves town for a few weeks and lets a friend or family member stay, they could likely refer to the Real Estate Act in their defense as long as the apartment is the owner's primary residence. (Although during the pandemic, a cooperative prevented a shareholder from leaving his brother in his vacant apartment while he volunteered at a Manhattan hospital.)
"There's a patchwork of rules that cover this stuff, and those rules all overlap," Wagner said. "The law is a mess in this area."
The problem with a blanket rule is that it covers situations like yours that really have nothing to do with the problem the board is trying to solve. You don't need to get permission from your board every time a guest stays in your home. You could just ignore the rule and make this point when someone challenges you. Or you could bring it up preventively. Write a letter on the board explaining that the new rule is against state law. As the laws supersede building codes, tell the board that you will not be seeking approval for your guests. Most likely, the board will step down.
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