Q. My wife and I live in a prewar co-op with our baby and toddler. Our building has a passenger elevator and a service elevator. Recently, my co-op board instituted a house rule that prohibits taking strollers in the passenger elevator because it says strollers damage the walls. Instead, strollers must use the service elevator, which is frequently dirty because the super uses it to transport garbage and construction workers use it to transport building materials. It is behind a fire door on a very small, narrow stairwell landing where the floorâs garbage cans are stored. The garbage can blocks the egress for a stroller. The only place to move the can would block the stairs, which is a fire hazard. We canât even prop open the fire door, since that is a fire-code violation. Since our kids are at the age where we canât leave home without a stroller, we feel the policy essentially discriminates against our family and relegates us to the service elevator. Can the building enforce a rule like this?
Upper West Side, Manhattan
A. Anyone who’s ever tried navigating the city streets with two toddlers in tow knows that a stroller is a bare necessity â and elevators often top the list of must-have amenities for young families. It is shocking that a co-op board on the Upper West Side - a neighborhood known for its abundance of little children - would be tone-deaf to this reality.
“There are certain neighborhoods in the city where if you’ve got a kid, thatâs where you gravitate toward,” said Nicole Davis, a founder of the Brooklyn Based website and the editor of its kids section. “It’s an understood rule that these are the kid-friendly areas of the city. To get a convenience like that taken away from you is like a slap in the face.”
But strollers - and the parents who wield them - have become an unfortunate symbol of all that’s annoying about the modern urban parent. The sight of a mother careening down a crowded Manhattan sidewalk with a double-wide Bugaboo can rankle many a pedestrian. It seems to me that members of your co-op board might be responding with a broad stroke to a perception - real or imagined - that carriage drivers have been scuffing the elevatorâs delicate walls.
Scuff marks or not, your co-op board is stepping into treacherous waters by relegating parents of small children to the dingy service elevator. The new rule might violate the city’s administrative code, which bars discrimination, according to Steven D. Sladkus, a real estate lawyer. It might also violate the city’s fire code, if fire exits are blocked, or it might violate the warranty of habitability if your children are subjected to unsanitary conditions, said Daphna Zekaria, a lawyer who represents tenants.
With these possible claims in mind, voice your concerns to the board - either in person or in a letter. Tell it that although you believe the rule is discriminatory, you would like to find common ground.
“They should try to sit down like grown-ups and say, “Hey, what gives?”” Mr. Sladkus said.
I imagine you want the elevators looking nice and shiny, too. Suggest that rather than ban strollers, the board post notices reminding tenants to use elevators with care, or install bumpers near the base of the elevator to protect fragile paneling. Press it to come up with a solution to protect the walls that doesn’t punish families. Otherwise, it might have a lawsuit on its hands.
Mighty Mansion Tax
Red Hook, Brooklyn
A. If you’ve spent much time shopping for real estate in Brooklyn lately, you’ve probably noticed that $1 million doesn’t exactly get you a mansion. In fact, the average listing price in Red Hook in the middle of February was $1.793 million, according to Trulia.com. And Red Hook isn’t a neighborhood known for its grand estates (although many of the listings are for multifamily homes, like yours).
Raging real estate market or not, the mansion tax applies to any residential purchase of a single piece of property exceeding $1 million, regardless of how many people are paying for it â or how it will ultimately be broken up. So you and your friends will have to figure the 1 percent tax into your calculations.
“It’s a longstanding law and it’s not going anywhere,” said Debra Powell, a real estate lawyer. “Everybody is always complaining about how New York City is a joke that $1 million is considered a mansion, but the law applies to the whole state.”
In other words, the mansion tax is a state law, not a city law. So it also affects people buying homes in Buffalo, where $1 million and change will get you a seven-bedroom estate with a swimming pool and a mahogany library, as one recent listing advertised. So, until Brooklyn listings start looking a little more like those in Buffalo, people will keep paying that hefty tax for their undersize fixer-uppers.
No Love for Sublets
Q. Three of the shareholders of our eight-unit co-op sublet their apartments. Those of us on the board would like the building to be all shareholder-occupied. Is it legal for the co-op board to charge higher maintenance or an additional fee to the shareholders who rent out their apartments? Can the board simply change the rules to bar long-term renting? Prices have soared in the neighborhood as two recent sales in the building have shown, so encouraging shareholders to sell hardly seems a hardship.
Prospect Heights, Brooklyn
A. If nearly half of your neighbors think that subletting is a terrific use of their apartment, changing their behavior might be difficult - even if they could make a mint selling their units.
To ban the practice, you’d have to change the building’s rules. For that, youâd need to amend the proprietary lease, a move that requires a two-thirds majority shareholder vote (for some buildings itâs as high as 75 percent). With subletting so popular, you might not reach that supermajority.
“Most people are not going to want to shoot themselves in the foot,” said Dennis H. Greenstein, a real estate lawyer. “Those shareholders are going to say, “We’re not going to give up a good thing here.””
As for using the pocketbook as a cudgel: You can’t charge shareholders different maintenance fees than their neighbors just because you donât like how they use their apartments. But the proprietary lease might have a provision that allows the board to charge a sublet fee, which might make the practice less economically attractive. On the other hand, the shareholder might simply pass the added cost onto his tenant in the form of higher rent - and if property values are soaring in your neighborhood, rents might be steep, too. Many leases state that the board has the right to grant or withhold consent for subletting for any reason that is not prohibited by law. If that is the case, and fellow board members share your disdain for sublessors, then withholding consent for any new applications will certainly stop the flow of new renters.
Also, rules already on the books might restrict how long a shareholder can sublet a unit, with many co-ops limiting the practice to one or two years in any five-year period. If the rule exists, the board should exercise it, which will at least reduce the frequency of sublets. If it doesnât, it might be worth bringing the idea up for a shareholder vote, as it would strike a compromise between those who want to end the practice and those who love it.