Q: We live in a co-op in Midtown East. In the past few months, the amount of cold water in our shower has diminished. The super had the tiles behind the bathroom sink removed to gain access to a water valve, which he said would fix the problem. But it’s worse now — a scalding hot shower or no shower at all — and I’m told that repairing it will entail breaking and removing the tiles in the shower. But this time, we will have to pay for the plumbing and tile work. We feel that providing shower water is the building’s responsibility and that the co-op should cover the cost. What are our rights in this situation?
A: Co-op residents are essentially owners and tenants at the same time — they own shares in the corporation that owns the building, but they rent their apartment from the corporation.
Usually, the co-op is responsible for the maintenance and repair of anything behind the walls (using your monthly maintenance fees, of course), while the shareholder is responsible for anything inside the unit, like the paint, tiling, and flooring. Whatever the case, the shareholder is still legally entitled to a habitable apartment, which includes the ability to take a shower.
Start by reading your co-op’s proprietary lease. It will outline which responsibilities fall on the co-op, and which fall on the shareholders. If the shower repair is in fact something that you are responsible for under the lease, then the co-op can charge you for the cost. However, proprietary leases cannot supersede the rights of residents to live in a habitable apartment.
Have a licensed plumber investigate the source of the problem, and ask around to see if your neighbors are having the same issue. If it’s not widespread, the co-op board could argue that it’s an issue with a shower head or faucet, which could be your responsibility, said Debra J. Guzov, a real estate lawyer in Manhattan. Or, if the plumbing needs to be repaired because of something a former occupant did to it, the co-op could hold you responsible.
If so, Ms. Guzov said, it’s still preferable to try to work something out with the co-op than to make a complaint through 311 or hire a lawyer — though they are also options you have. “It’s always best to try to negotiate a solution with the managing agent,” she said.
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