New York City is a land of condos, co-ops, and rental apartments. If you find yourself renting an ugly apartment, there is no way you can just tear out a wall or two, put in new floors, and update all the major appliances. Condo and co-op dwellers, however, have more freedom when it comes to renovations.
People in condos own their homes, so getting all the renovation ducks in a row is relatively easier for them. Things get more complicated in co-ops, which are cooperatives wherein residents buy shares—not actual property. This means if you live in a co-op and want to update your digs, you need board approval and getting it can turn into a long, paperwork-laden process. Here’s how to get the ball rolling.
Plan and Start the Paperwork
Co-op boards are hungry for details, so don’t start the application process before you know the specifics of how you want to transform your place. Once you have your vision clearly in mind, get in touch with your managing agent, and ask for a copy of the building’s alteration agreement. The application explains the rules regarding changes so that you can tweak your renovation ideas accordingly.
A standard issue when applying for renovation is that the alteration agreement does not give adequate guidelines for some types of significant changes. If you are fortunate, your co-op board may use an alteration agreement put together by the Real Estate Board of New York (REBNY), which is an up-to-date document that can help expedite the application process. However, even if your board uses the REBNY model, you may have to wait several months before you get approval.
Also, keep in mind there are some types of renovations that most boards are unlikely to approve, such as if you want to install stone floors or put a new bathroom above your downstairs neighbor’s living room.
Boards are sticklers for the rules, as they should be when it comes to making sure your contractors and subcontractors have the proper qualifications to work in your building. Electricians, general contractors, and plumbers all need certification from the Department of Buildings. Even if you want to hire a well-reputed, skilled company that’s a star elsewhere, they can’t do work in New York without the proper licenses. Also, if you live in an older building (built before 1978), your contractor needs an EPA certification for dealing with lead.
Submit copies of all these licenses to the board, along with your alteration application.
Insurance All Around
Mishaps occur, so before you set your renovation plans in stone, make sure you and your contractor are protected if the remodeling process doesn’t go smoothly. The contractor and subcontractors each must give you a certificate of insurance stating that you, the co-op board, and the managing agent are all covered. Your contractor and subcontractors also need disability and workers’ compensation insurance.
If your chosen workers can’t provide proof their insurance fully satisfies NYC requirements, approval for your renovation will stay nothing but a dream.
Image by Anna / Flickr
Sure, your contractor will know if a certain type of work requires a building permit from the city, but some contractors like to skip steps. Therefore, you should know the basics of what types of renovations need special permits. Major changes and architectural alterations always require more paperwork than, say, installing new kitchen cabinets. An article in The Cooperator gives further guidance on the types of permits you may need.
For architectural changes, you’ll also need the go-ahead from the co-op’s architect. There is often an hourly fee associated with this; ask what the price is and ask about how long it should take to review the plans. If the review takes significantly longer than the estimated time, make sure you find out why, so you know the architect isn’t overcharging you.
Mind the Details
You are genuinely privileged if you live in one of the city’s beautiful landmark historic buildings. However, with the privilege comes another renovation hurdle. Before you make changes to a building in a historic district, you need permission from the city’s Landmark Preservation Commission (LPC). You can find out if your building is considered a landmark by contacting the LPC or by looking at maps on nyc.gov.
Make sure you pay attention to other little details associated with your project as well, such as if your building’s board will charge you fees for the inconvenience construction causes to the building’s staff.
Getting the green light to renovate your co-op is a lengthy and often frustrating journey. However, there are a few things you can do to sand down the process’s rough edges.
- Make sure you have wiggle room in your budget.
- Stay in close contact with your contractor and designer about the details of your project and the timeline; if things aren’t going as well as you hoped, you should find out why.
- Find a comfortable place to stay while renovations are ongoing. If you crash with a friend, make sure your friend understands that sometimes these things take longer than planned.
- If the board denies your application, make sure you understand the reason and work with the board and managing agent to find a renovation plan that satisfies everyone. Fighting with the board will only drag out the process and cause you extra headaches.
- Sometimes co-op boards make demands that seem unreasonable. For instance, they might insist that you use a specific contractor or electrician. Cooperate, if at all possible, and voice your complaints about the inconvenience after the project is over.
Is Renovation Right for You?
Getting board approval to renovate a co-op is sometimes a more significant project than the renovation itself. However, if you love where you live and can’t imagine settling down anywhere else, the effort is worth it. Follow board and city rules, and you’ll find yourself sitting in your spruced up apartment before you know it.
On the other hand, an outdated co-op might be the reason you need to start looking for new digs. Who knows? Maybe the apartment building around the corner has everything you’re looking for.