Q: My co-op has a new air-conditioner rule: Once we install units in our windows, we’re not allowed to remove them at the end of the season. Instead, we have to keep them installed year-round. Shareholders who don’t comply will face penalties. When I spoke to the board president, he said, “It’s a New York City law, and if we get a fine from the city, we’re going to fine you.” I looked for applicable laws and found nothing other than safety rules for window air-conditioners. Can our co-op make this a requirement and impose fines?
A: The city does not have rules about how many months of the year your air-conditioner has to be in the window, or how frequently you can take yours in and out. But it does have rules about how they should be installed, and building owners are required to keep their buildings, including the facades, in safe condition. Anything attached to the outside, like a window unit, would be subject to that rule.
So your board president might be referring to facade safety rules. A Buildings Department inspector could issue a violation for an improperly installed air-conditioner. One of the most common offenses: propping up the unit on wooden blocks or bricks, which can come loose and fall to the street below.
If you install your window unit poorly and the co-op gets a fine, it could pass that fine onto you, said Ingrid C. Manevitz, a real estate lawyer and partner in the New York City office of the law firm Seyfarth Shaw. The building may be concerned that if window units come in and out every year, there’s a greater chance of faulty installation. A board is entitled to make rules intended to protect the safety of people on the street.
However, it’s unusual that the board would require you to keep units in the windows year-round. Winters are cold, and a drafty window isn’t good for energy efficiency. Many buildings come up with more flexible solutions, like requiring residents to professionally install them, or hire building staff to do it.
Talk to the board and the managing agent, and ask your neighbors to do the same. Ask the board to consider alternative solutions to the one they’ve instated. Try to reach a compromise, as it’s not unreasonable to want your windows back for the winter.