New York's Cooperative and Condominium Community

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A Working Intercom Isn't an Amenity. It's Required by Law.

Greenwich Village, Manhattan

Front door intercoms, co-op and condo boards, warranty of habitability, housing court, HP proceedings.
Feb. 26, 2024

Q: The resident of a sixth-floor apartment in a 54-unit co-op in the West Village lost intercom service five years ago, thanks to a renovation by the downstairs neighbor. The co-op board never restored intercom service. Building management has been notified several times, to no avail. What can a shareholder do under these circumstances?

A: The important thing to remember is that a working intercom isn’t just a convenience when visitors or food deliveries arrive — it’s a legal requirement, replies the Ask Real Estate column in The New York Times. Under the state’s multiple dwelling law, buildings built or converted after 1968 with eight or more units must have a two-way voice intercom system linking the front door to each apartment. The city’s housing maintenance code also requires a functioning intercom.

“As a result, the co-op has a legal obligation to repair or replace the intercom,” says Nancy Kourland, a partner who handles real estate litigation at Lasser Law Group. Moreover, she adds, courts have found that intercoms are an essential service and that failing to maintain them is a breach of the all-important warranty of habitability under state law because it affects the habitability and security of an apartment.

You can consult your proprietary lease to be sure, but it’s very unlikely that repairs to the intercom system as you describe would be the responsibility of a shareholder. Write a letter to the co-op board notifying them that you haven’t had a working intercom since 2019, and that it needs to be repaired immediately. You can add that if it isn’t repaired, you will take further action.

If the board is not responsive, you can seek a repair by making a complaint to 311, or by starting an HP proceeding in housing court. To start such a proceeding against the co-op board, go to the Clerk's Office at the housing court. You do not need a lawyer to start an HP case. For more information about HP actions, visit the website of the New York State Unified Court System.

You can withhold your maintenance fees until a repair is made, based upon the proprietary lease. If the co-op brings a legal action against you for nonpayment, the broken intercom could be a defense in court, says Andrew Bart, a senior litigation counsel who specializes in co-ops and condos at Kagan Lubic Lepper Finkelstein & Gold.

If the problem was caused by your neighbor’s renovations, your neighbor may be responsible for the repair, depending on the lease terms or the alteration agreement that was signed when the work was performed, says Andrew Freedland, a partner at the law firm Herrick Feinstein. If your neighbor is found responsible, they may then have a claim against their contractor, he adds.

Eventually, the buck will stop somewhere, with either the co-op board, the downstairs neighbor or his contractor. When it does, the aggrieved shareholder will have a working intercom — at someone else's expense.

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