New York's Cooperative and Condominium Community

Habitat Magazine Insider Guide



When Thinking About Amending Your Constitution …

The declaration provides essential facts concerning the formation and the operation of your condominium. Its basis is found in the New York State Condominium Act. It is your constitution and the basis of your condominium’s governance. It contains things like where your land is located, a physical description of the building, the name of the condominium, the dimensions of the units. When a unit-owner buys a condominium with a living room that’s 20-feet by 20-feet, that’s in the declaration, a public record that can be accessed through ACRIS. A tax lot and block is assigned to that unit and can then be deeded to a unit-owner.

The declaration also describes what’s known as the common elements: the space in the building outside apartments, such as hallways, boiler room, rooftop. The declaration gives specifics, literally inch by inch, of which parts of the building belong to the condominium board of managers and are under its auspices, and which parts unit-owners can use and enjoy. It determines how units are used, what alterations can be made to units, and incorporates the bylaws of the condominium. It also describes the rights of the sponsor and the commercial unit-owners, which may make a prospective unit-owner decide the building is unattractive and not worth buying into.

How do you amend the declaration? It’s not easy, and for good reason: you don’t want to do it often. If you want to change your house rules to say that certain levels of noise can’t be made after 8 o’clock, that’s relatively easy, simply requiring a vote of the majority of the board of managers. However, the board of managers does not have the power to amend the declaration. That power lies with the unit-owners. An amendment often requires the approval of at least two-thirds of the unit-owners and can even require the approval of 100 percent of the unit-owners. The use of the common elements cannot be changed without the approval of 100 percent of the unit -owners. Again, there’s a good reason for that: such a change could affect somebody adversely, and the law contemplates that and protects that unit-owner. So it’s not easy the change the declarations.

I strongly advise anybody who wants to buy into a condominium to read the declarations, or have his attorney read them. They’re a matter of public record. In fact, the statute says the declarations and the amendments are not effective until they’re filed in the City Register. So again, it’s a formal document, a public record for all to read.

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