The vast majority of NYC condos and co-ops will have house rules—it's possible but unusual to find a building without them. After all, house rules are there to help owners live together without conflict.
Typically, they deal with issues like where bikes should be stored, where stroller and umbrellas can live, how a recycling program is managed, or what the rules are on takeout deliveries and flyers.
House rules are different from a co-op's proprietary lease and bylaws, which focus on corporate governance and how the board operates. A condo also has bylaws addressing how the building operates.
What happens if you break a house rule?
There can be consequences for violating the bylaws of a building—the most serious will be eviction from a co-op. In a condo, violation of the rules can result in fines. House rules, however, are more accurately a set of guidelines for residents. A bylaw might say it's against the rules to obstruct the hallways. The house rules might say strollers and umbrellas should be folded if they are stored outside the apartment.
"It's not that house rules are less enforceable, but they drill down on various aspects of living together," says Barry Margolis, co-chair of the law firm Abrams Garfinkel Margolis Bergson. He points out there can be bylaws about not creating a nuisance and then house rules that address late-night noise or marijuana smoke.
Just as every building in NYC is different, so too are house rules. Aleksandra Scepanovic, managing director of Ideal Properties Group, points out some co-ops take their rules to an extreme, attempting to regulate or even restrict virtually every aspect of the shareholders' tenancy.
"There are buildings that specifically prohibit decorations of any kind on apartment doors. Most co-ops disallow adult children from residing in the co-op unit while parents are away [and] some co-ops will not allow the residents to have a bike in the elevator, even though the building itself may have a bike storage facility on-site," she says.
Can you change house rules?
If you are buying from a sponsor in a new condo building, there will still be house rules but they may change over time. "As more and more residents take control of the board, they can begin to fashion rules that are more geared for their community," says Margolis.
Making changes to the house rules is usually easier than changing the terms of the proprietary lease and/or bylaws. Margolis points out "the proprietary lease typically requires two-thirds of the shareholders to vote on the change, whereas the board has the discretion to amend the house rules from time to time."
Co-ops may be notorious when it comes to rules and restrictions over shareholders but in buyer markets, Scepanovic says co-ops tend to relax the rules "in order to attract the picky purchaser presented with a flood of competing choices."
The strangest house rules
The current market might be an opportunity for some co-ops to do away with more archaic or prohibitive rules. Matthew Cohen, an agent at Halstead says one of the "strangest house rules" he's come across is a building on the Upper East Side that said residents were only allowed to speak with the doormen "for up to 10 minutes at a time as to allow them adequate time for everyone else.” Another co-op owner vowed to change the culture of his co-op, which prevented take-out deliveries to his door and banned in-window air conditioner units.
Getting a look at the house rules before you buy isn't always easy. As part of your due diligence you'll want to ask the managing agent for the governing documents of the building but "if you don’t ask for something, you don’t get it," says Margolis and sometimes it can be hard to get your hands on them, leaving buyers to do some detective work on how the co-op or condo is run.