Condominium Owners & By-Laws

In the state of New York, a condominium form of ownership of real property is defined as a division of a single parcel of real property into individual units and common elements in which an owner holds title in fee to his [or her] individual unit as well as an undivided interest in the common elements of the parcel. Each owner of a condominium, therefore, holds a real property interest in his or her unit and its appurtenances, giving such owner an exclusive possessory interest in the unit, and an undivided interest in the common areas of the condominium. However, in purchasing a condominium unit, an individual gives up certain rights and privileges which traditionally accompany fee ownership of real property, subordinating such rights to the interests of the group. Once a condominium is created by the filing of a declaration, the administration of the condominium's affairs is governed principally by its by-laws, which are, in essence, an agreement among all of the individual unit owners as to the manner in which the condominium will operate, and which set forth the respective rights and obligations of unit owners concerning their own units and the condominium's common elements. Thus, despite the unit owners' undivided interest in the property, exclusive authority to manage the common elements and the finances of the condominium is vested in the board of managers. Further, a declaration and by-laws that are executed as part of the same transaction must be interpreted together. It is a principle of contract interpretation that when parties set down their agreement in a clear, unambiguous and complete document, such agreement should be enforced in accordance with the plain meaning of its terms.

Further, a condominium's board of managers is statutorily empowered to enforce the condominium's by-laws, rules and regulations. When an owner of a condominium unit challenges an action by a board of managers, the court must apply the business judgment rule. Under the business judgment rule, court review of the actions of a board of managers is limited to whether the board of managers' action was authorized, and whether it was taken in good faith and in the furtherance of legitimate interests of the condominium.

In the Appellate Division, Second Judicial Department case of Board of Managers of Village View Condominium v. Forman decided back in 2010 the Appellate Division rendered a decision in which a condominium board of managers filed an action against a unit owner seeking a declaratory judgment that the unit owner was in violation of the declaration, bylaws and house rules. The rule passed by the condominium board of managers excluded pets from the complex. In that case, the condominium's bylaws included no restrictions on pet ownership in the condominium and, further, states that unit owners "and their pets" shall not disturb the other unit owners. The Village View Condominium board of managers passed a rule and regulation stating, "positively no pets are allowed in the building for any reason". When the unit owner refused to remove her dog, the board commenced an action to declare the defendant in violation of the condominium's declaration, bylaws and house rules and sought to permanently enjoin her from keeping any animal in her unit without prior board approval. The Appellate Division of the Supreme Court, Second Judicial Department found that since the condominium's by-laws did not contain any prohibition against pet ownership, and in fact, had a general no-nuisance provision with respect to pets, any restriction placed on the use of the defendant's unit with regard to the banning of pets, must be contained in the condominium's bylaws, which bylaws, required approval of 80% of the unit owners at a duly noticed meeting. Accordingly, the court found that the defendant unit owner was entitled to a declaration that the house rule which completely bans pets from the condominium is invalid. It further found that the board was not entitled to enforce the house rule against the defendant.

It appears from the above Appellate Division case that if a Board wants to prohibit pets and enforce the prohibition, it must be done through an amendment to the by-laws or declaration if there are presently no restrictions regarding pets in the by-laws or declaration, or if the by-laws or declaration allows or contemplates allowing the unit owners to keep pets in his/her unit. It appears clear from the Appellate Division case that if the unit owner challenges the enforcement of a rule and regulation prohibiting pets kept in the unit where the by-laws or declaration presently allows pets being kept by a unit owner, the rule and regulation will be found invalid.