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Can my NYC building really forbid me from moving out during coronavirus?

A move could potentially bring infected persons into the building, make other residents uncomfortable, and take already thinly-stretched building staff away from their regular tasks.

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Question:

I'm renting in a co-op building and want to move out, but my building says no moves are allowed now because of Covid-19. Can the building really do this? Do I have any recourse?

Answer:

Co-op boards can set their own rules on matters like this, our experts say, so you may have to hold off on moving for a while. 

Moving companies are considered an essential service in NYC right now, but that doesn't mean your particular building has to allow residents to move in and out. 

The proprietary leases of most co-ops state that the co-op board has the right to determine how best to maintain the building, says Kevin McConnell, a partner with Himmelstein, McConnell, Gribben, Donoghue & Joseph (a Brick sponsor.) As a renter, you're technically subletting from whomever is shareholder of the apartment, which means you're subject to the rules the board has set, which may include a ban on moves during the coronavirus pandemic. 

"The court doctrine of the 'business judgment rule' gives apartment corporations broad discretion in their decisions. As long as the board’s decision can be shown to be an exercise of business judgment without favoritism, self-dealing or bias, the courts will not interfere even if the decision may be considered unreasonable," McConnell explains. 


Click here for more of Brick Underground's coronavirus coverage.


Even before the outbreak of Covid-19, co-ops and condos could set their own restrictions around moves, such as limiting residential moving to weekdays or specific times of day. 

"If a building’s rules in response to this emergency prohibit moves in or out, then the co-op or condo is not obligated to permit a move just because movers are a permitted essential business," says Aaron Shmulewitz, attorney with Belkin Burden Wenig & Goldman. "A board has the legal authority to regulate moves, and to secure the building during an emergency like this one, especially when such an activity could potentially introduce infected persons into the building, make other residents uncomfortable, and cause an already thinly-stretched building staff to devote time and effort to the move instead of their regular tasks." 

This also means that you have little legal recourse; you're probably not eligible for an abatement on your rent or maintenance, despite the inconvenience, Shmulewitz says, so you'll need to postpone your move for now. 

If it's any consolation, the city has already met three of seven benchmarks set by Governor Andrew Cuomo for reopening, so you may not have much longer to wait until you can move out. 


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