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Is it okay to allow washer-dryers in just a few apartments?

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Q. I'm on the board of a co-op building that has never allowed washer-dryers, but we have been advised that the newer plumbing in one line of apartments could theoretically handle the extra burden placed by washing machines.   However, some fellow board members believe that permitting machines in only that line would be unfair to the rest of the building.  

Is that the right way to think about it? How do other buildings handle these situations?  Also, can we place a surcharge on owners who install machines, and if so how much?  These residents will be using more water, and also they are obtaining a benefit that arguably increases their property values.  

A. Your building would not be the first to selectively award the right to install a washer-dryer, but that doesn't mean it should.

“Typically, a building has one policy for the entire building but there are exceptions,” says BrickTank expert Roberta Axelrod, who sits on 10 New York City-area co-op and condo boards as a sponsor’s representative for Time Equities. “This may be where a new riser has been installed in a particular line, or for ground-floor apartments, where there is less concern about back-up overflow.”

The practice is perfectly legal under the Business Judgment Rule, which gives boards wide latitude to make decisions in the best interest of the building, says real estate attorney Eric Goidel.

But he and other experts expressed grave concerns over fairness.

The lucky few owners granted the right to install a washer-dryer “would have an unfair advantage in both the use and enjoyment of their units as well as in the resale and sublet market,” says Goidel.

Managing agent Lynn Whiting of the Argo Corporation agrees that lopsided access puts excluded apartments at a competitive disadvantage. A better approach, she says, is to “consider retrofitting the plumbing for every line to allow everyone equal access to a washer-dryer.”

Some buildings do level surcharges on owners with washer-dryers. Goidel thinks it’s imperative.

“Unless and until every apartment has an equivalent right, it is not only permissible but appropriate to fix some type of appliance surcharge taking into account the extra water/sewer and possibly electric consumption (if the building is not submetered),” he says.

Just how much is unclear.  Michael Wolfe of Midboro Management says one of his buildings instituted a $25.00 monthly fee.

Wolfe also offered a short checklist of additional considerations before your board opens the potential floodgates:

•    Washing machines should be installed in a waterproof pan with a water alarm connected to the water valve to automatically shut down the water supply in case of a leak
•    Avoid installing over a dry (i.e. bedroom or other living space, versus a kitchen or bath) or quiet room to avoid complaints
•    Make sure there is enough electricity to run a dryer—or if it’s gas powered, make sure there is adequate venting.


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