In a co-op, shareholders elect a volunteer co-op board which (except in some very small buildings that choose to save money by self-managing) works with a property management company to oversee the care and maintenance of the building.
The board also creates and enforces rules about everything from renovation inside units, to what’s allowed to transpire on the roof deck, to whether you can speak on your cell phone in the lobby, or whether (and what kind of) dogs will be allowed in the building. Unlike condo boards, co-ops can even evict an extremely disruptive shareholder and force them to sell their apartment.
Overreaching, power-hungry co-op boards are the stuff of legend here, and some of the stories are true. However, at least as many co-op boards are made up of volunteers with full-time jobs and families who try to make the best of what is a demanding and time-consuming role when one well.
In a condo, individual owners elect a board of directors that perform many of the same functions as a co-op board. Generally speaking, though, most condo boards tend to be more hands-off when it comes to rulemaking.
That slightly more laissez-faire approach is partly due to philosophical underpinnings (more on that below) and partly because condo boards wield less legal enforcement muscle. Yes, the board can fine owners for the expense related to any rule infraction and get a court-ordered injunction to stop it from happening again. But because a condo owner actually owns his or her unit (versus shares in a co-op corporation), a condo board can’t evict an owner from an apartment like a co-op board can.
Note: In both co-op and condos, your voting power increases with the size of your apartment.