Real Estate Q&A: Why Can’t I Have a Washing Machine?

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Washed Out

Q. My co-op allows some shareholders to have laundry equipment in their apartments but has denied this privilege to others. Is this permissible?

Park Slope, Brooklyn

A. You are not the first person to dream of a stackable washer/dryer in your kitchen. At this very moment, legions of New Yorkers are hoarding quarters and hauling overstuffed bags of dirty garments to their basement or the laundromat. It must seem particularly cruel knowing that some of the fortunate few who don’t have to do this live in your very own building.

Yet as unfair as the arrangement might seem, there might be good reason for it. Some lines in the building might have better drainage than others. Adding washing machines to a taxed plumbing system could cause major problems.

“€œWe’€™ve actually told buildings that if they have drainage problems now on any particular line, they should not allow washing machines unless they can solve the problem,”€ said Philip Kraus, the chief executive of Fred Smith Plumbing on the Upper East Side.

Ask the board about its reasoning for the rule. It might, in fact, be rational. A co-op can restrict washers and dryers to certain apartments, according to Lawrence Chaifetz, a real estate lawyer, so long as the policy is consistent and doesn’€™t discriminate against individual shareholders.

Co-ops With No Trust

Q. My co-op board does not allow shareholders to put their shares in a trust. Because of this restriction, when a shareholder dies, the heirs must go through probate court. This could delay the sale of an apartment, requiring the estate to continue to pay maintenance, which would be costly and time-consuming for the heirs. Is there any solution to this problem? Is there a trend away from this position among some co-op boards?

Upper West Side, New York

A. It”€™s kind of you to be so concerned about the bureaucratic headaches that await your future heirs. But rest assured that if they want to unload your apartment after your demise, probate is not going to be the problem. By the time they’re done cleaning out your belongings, finding a broker, staging the property and enticing a buyer, probate will be over.

“€œProbate in New York is quick, it’€™s efficient; in four to six weeks they’€™re out,”€ said Jerome Reisman, an estate and trust lawyer.

Where a trust comes in handy is in helping shield the shares of a home from taxes. But co-ops have a long tradition of opposing trusts. Many bristle at the idea of a shareholder’s shifting ownership to another entity.

That said, however, the tide does seem to be shifting. Some newer Manhattan co-ops, particularly downtown, are more open to the idea, according to Mary Cronquist, a real estate lawyer. Enlist some of your neighbors to press the board to reconsider the rule, because the change would benefit their estates as well. Remind them that even a co-op board member can’€™t escape death and taxes.

Lurking Behind the Curtains

Q. About 20 years ago, my co-op replaced the windows in the building. At the time, I was subletting an apartment, but recently I bought a unit. Assuming the windows had been replaced, I didn’€™t check behind the shades. When I moved in, I discovered that a lot-line window in my bedroom had not been replaced. (None of the lot-line windows on the line were replaced.) The old wood frame has gaps and doesn’€™t function properly. It leaks cold air and collects moisture; I also had to pay more to install an air-conditioner because of the unstable frame. I feel cheated having such a window. It causes me duress and anxiety. But the board will not replace it. What are my options, other than replacing it at my own cost?

Upper East Side, New York

A. Out of curiosity, why didn’€™t you lift the curtains before you bought the apartment? But since that ship has sailed, you need to resolve the problem of your drafty window, which might be more serious than just a case of a damp sill and a wobbly frame.

Lot-line windows (windows that open onto the property line) should be fire-rated and clad in steel in the event that there is a fire in the neighboring building, according to William J. Pyznar, an engineer and principal at the Falcon Group. If the window is not strong enough to support an air-conditioner, it probably doesn’€™t have the muscle to stave off powerful winds, either.

But replacing a window in a high-rise is not a cheap endeavor. “€œIt’€™s not like going to Home Depot and buying a vinyl window,”€ Mr. Pyznar said. “€œA good window, especially in a high-rise, is relatively expensive.”€

Which brings us to your co-op board. Lot-line windows are a curious feature in New York City buildings. They are temporary fixtures -€” when a new building rises on the neighboring lot, the windows frequently have to be boarded up. Generally, the unit owner foots the bill for bricking over the window. (It might feel like a one-two punch, but think of all the years you got to enjoy extra light from a window that was never required to exist.)

Frequently, maintenance of lot-line windows also falls to the shareholder. Read your proprietary lease and see what it says on the issue. If maintaining the window is indeed the building’€™s responsibility, then demand that the management fix it, since it is a safety hazard. If it is your responsibility, then you might want to dig into your own coffers and replace it, for the same reason.

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