Ask an Expert: Wall-to-wall carpet in a co-op?

Recently, my co-op board inspected the building to look for unauthorized electrical devices and discovered that I don’t have the required wall-to-wall carpeting. I use rugs — I’d previously restored my beautiful wood floors — and my downstairs neighbor has never complained about noise. However, the board wants me to install carpeting — an expense I can little afford as a retired nurse with a chronic illness. What are my rights in this situation?

It depends how far your board is willing to go to enforce its demand, our experts say.

Many co-ops (and rental buildings too) require residents to carpet 80% of their floors to dampen the noise between apartments above and below. However, given that you’ve got rugs and so far no one’s complained, it doesn’t seem like a major breach of your proprietary lease, so you probably won’t get evicted over something like this, says real estate lawyer Sam Himmelstein, noting that in his 35-year career, he’s never seen a board bring a tenant to court for this kind of thing unless there were noise complaints.

That said, co-op boards have a wide berth to make decisions on the way the building is run, thanks to a legal precedent called the business judgment rule. A court could easily defer to your board on this issue, and you’d have to fix the problem, or “cure the breach,” Himmelstein says. “The cost of fighting the case would likely exceed the price of the carpeting and [you] could also be liable for the co-op’s legal fees,” he adds.

The fact that you may have extenuating health or financial circumstances won’t make a difference, legally speaking.

“Since all tenant-shareholders must be treated equally, the co-op probably cannot make an exception unless you can show your chronic illness or any illness is aggravated by wall-to–wall carpeting,” Himmelstein says. And even then, as we’ve noted before, you may be out of luck.

If it turns out that other residents have also skirted the carpeting rule, you may have grounds to challenge it, says Himmelstein.

“But if the board then goes ahead and makes everyone install carpeting,” he adds, “[you] may not be the most popular person in the building.”

Leigh Kamping-Carder is a senior editor at BrickUnderground.com, the online survival guide to finding a NYC apartment and living happily ever after. To see more expert answers or to ask a real estate question, click here.