How to spot a friendly/liberal co-op or condo board from a mile away
Nov 13, 2023
When you buy a co-op or condo in New York City, it’s easy to focus more on the apartment
(its price, size, and location) than the building–let alone the personality and temperament of
the co-op or condo board that runs it.
But make no mistake: Beyond deciding whether you may become an owner in the first place
(if you’re buying a co-op), the board will affect your happily-ever-after–from renovation and
sublet approvals, to rules and regulations that affect your daily existence, to the upkeep and
maintenance of the building itself.
Below, some canary-in-a-coal-mine pointers for discerning whether the board is friendly or icy,
hands-on or laissez-faire, well-run or paralyzed by infighting.
Check out the house rules and renovation policies, as well as the minutes Every board has
house rules and bylaws and reading those can give you flavor of how the building operates.
The more lenient buildings are yes, yes, yes across the board may indicate how flexible the
Available from the building’s managing agent, such rules will outline policies about pets,
renovations, subletting, etc. The minutes of board meetings—reviewed by your attorney—can give you a deeper dive into the character of a board.
If there’s a consistent pattern of rejecting applications for renovations—that might raise a red
flag. Or if you’re seeing a pattern of [buyer] turndowns [by a co-op board], that’s a question to
ask–what’s going on here
What’s important to determine, is the board is reasonable and consistent in its
decision-making process (that’s really the concern)? Boards typically have a character that
remains steady over time. It really is more about the human factor than what any board can
put down on paper.
Your attorney’s due diligence should look at how recent and often the house rules have been
updated, and the nature of the rule changes. Out-of-date rules could indicate a less-organized
(but more relaxed) board.
If they’re passing resolutions that determine what color the trash cans are in the laundry room,
you know you have a hands-on board.
Read behind the words of the application
From the number of references required to the amount of processing fees, the application to
buy an apartment can yield a number of clues. Some of the looser co-ops have very small fees for credit checks, move-in and move-out and elevator fees. On the flip side, if the pet is required to come to the interview, that gives a sense for what kind of co-op this is.
Here are some more indications that a co-op or condo board is more chill than chilly:
● The board package asks for minimal documentation, such as one or two months of bank
statements and one or two letters of recommendation.
● Financial qualifications are approachable, e.g., 20 percent down, a 30% debt-to-income
ratio, and feasible post-closing cash assets—usually up to a year of mortgage and
maintenance in the bank.
● Musical instruments are welcome—even encouraged.
● Pets are permitted, with few restrictions on size or type.
● You can sublet your apartment with ease and without unwieldy waiting periods.
●You can work out of your home—no (or few) questions asked.
● Apartments may be purchased as pied-a-terres.
● Apartments may be purchased and put into a living trust for health-care and estate
● The approval process for renovations isn’t onerous or expensive (i.e. paying out the nose
for the building-designated architects and engineers).
● It’s easy to add people onto your share certificate, e.g., a relative or domestic partner.
Ask an insider
Obviously one of the best ways to gather intelligence on the board is to find someone who
lives in the building, if you can. We also recommend doing some on-the-ground intelligence.
Talk to the doorman—he can be a great source of information and give you insights into
building. Through such questioning, potential buyers have found out, for example, whether
the board members are in harmony with each other, which can lend a clue about their
governing style and ability to make collective decisions—mainly, about you. Your real-estate investment is most protected when the board is made up of reasonable people who make sound decisions.
Moreover, the friendliest, most relaxed co-op or condo board may not be the wisest choice.
Honestly, you don’t want to live in a co-op where the board is either too lax or too strict. If a
board is loosey-goosey and fails to set guidelines for renovations for example, or doesn’t put limits on the ability to sublease, then your investment could be in jeopardy down the road.