Thursday, October 20, 2016

Never-Ending Construction Clamor

Photo
CreditThe New York Times 
Ask Real Estate is a weekly column that answers questions from across the New York region. Submit yours to realestateqa@nytimes.com.
A Long-Running Din
A co-op conversion project has been underway for over a year at the building across from our co-op. Every day, we are jarred awake at 7 a.m. by beeping trucks and noises of clashing lumber and metal. A worker at the site recently told us that the work would continue for “probably five” more years. How could it possibly take that long to renovate 57 units? Is it true there is no limit to how long residential construction may go on?
Upper West Side, Manhattan
You are not the only New Yorker pleading for the jackhammers to stop. Construction is seemingly everywhere, with permits issued for 11,729 units of housing in the first four months of the year, according to the Real Estate Board of New York. Facing half a decade of the racket must seem unbearable.
Unfortunately, you might just have to bear it. As long as the permits are active and the city has not issued any stop-work orders, construction can drag on indefinitely. Any work done before 7 a.m., after 6 p.m. or on weekends requires a variance, according to the Buildings Department. And expired permits can be renewed, provided there has been activity on the application within a two-year period of the permit’s expiration date, according to Andrew I. Bart, a Manhattan real estate lawyer.
“Don’t give up hope,” Mr. Bart said. “You can address the quality of life issues affected by what seems like never-ending construction.”
Make some noise of your own. Find out the status of the building permits by visiting the Department of Buildings website. If any have expired, report them to the Buildings Department or 311. You can also report excessive noise (even during permitted work hours), excessive construction debris and work done outside of permitted hours.
You could also bring a private nuisance claim against the owner of the building and the contractors, but that might be a difficult case to win, as you would have to prove that the interference with your right to enjoy your co-op is caused by their conduct and is substantial, intentional and unreasonable, Mr. Bart said.
‘Living in Sin’ Rules
Do many co-ops still have “living in sin” bylaws, or enforce rules that prohibit two unmarried persons not closely blood-related from sharing a co-op? My co-op board has threatened to selectively enforce this rule.
Midtown East, Manhattan
“Living in sin” policies — rules that restrict unmarried couples from living together — date to a time when such arrangements were viewed as scandalous. Perhaps the most famous example was the Barbizon Hotel for Women on 63rd Street and Lexington, a residence that had strict restrictions on male visitors. (Grace Kelly, Sylvia Plath and Joan Crawford all stayed there.)
Surprisingly, a handful of states still have laws on the books restricting cohabitation. An unmarried couple living together in Florida, for example, could face 60 days in jail and a $500 fine for violating a 19th-century state law.
“It’s an embarrassment,” said Richard Stark, a Florida state representative and co-author of a bill to do away with the law. The measure, however, never made it out of the judiciary committee in the state House of Representatives. “This is a very, very conservative state,” he said.
But in New York, a co-op that tried to enforce a “living in sin” policy — and some older proprietary leases still include language limiting occupancy to a shareholder and a “spouse,” according to Thomas P. Higgins, a Manhattan real estate lawyer — would be in violation of the state’s roommate law, which allows tenants to live with a roommate.
Then there is the issue of marriage equality. The battle over same-sex marriage has substantially changed how the courts view an individual’s constitutional right to exercise autonomy over personal matters, such as whom he or she chooses to live with, Mr. Higgins said.
In other words, your co-op should not be questioning the status of your relationship with the person who shares your home with you. If you decide to move in with your significant other and the co-op gives you any grief, a terse letter to the co-op’s lawyer would likely resolve the matter quickly. And if the board enforced any rule selectively, it would find itself in deep water.
“Any board foolish enough to threaten to selectively enforce any rule is not getting good legal advice,” Mr. Higgins said. “A co-op’s rules need to be applied evenly, to all apartment shareholders.”
Asbestos Concerns
I am a rent-stabilized tenant living in an apartment building that is being converted from rentals to condos. Asbestos is being removed from several units. (Warning signs have been posted on the doors.) Fumes leak into the hall outside my unit. Am I safe?
Upper East Side, Manhattan
Asbestos fibers are odorless, tasteless and generally invisible to the naked eye. Asbestos is also a well-known carcinogen and a federally regulated hazardous substance. Areas where asbestos is being removed are supposed to be maintained under negative pressure to keep dust and asbestos fibers from being released into other spaces, according to Peter E. Varsalona, a principal of RAND Engineering and Architecture.
The fumes you are noticing could contain harmful substances, including asbestos, but without having the area professionally inspected, one cannot be certain. “Whatever the tenant is discerning, it’s a product of the ongoing demolition work in the area.” Mr. Varsalona said, adding that the fumes might or might not contain asbestos fibers.
An independent firm is supposed to monitor the air inside and outside the work area. If you are concerned about your safety or suspect the work is being done improperly, report the situation to your landlord. Also, call 311 to report the condition to the Department of Environmental Protection, which oversees asbestos abatement and can send out an inspector to assess the situation.
http://www.nytimes.com/2015/06/21/realestate/living-with-construction-asbestos-removal-and-living-in-sin.html?rref=collection%2Ftimestopic%2FAsbestos&action=click&contentCollection=timestopics&region=stream&module=stream_unit&version=latest&contentPlacement=1&pgtype=collection&_r=0
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