Should we tell the coop board about our roommate?
March 1, 2011 7:25 AM   Subscribe

My SO and I are looking to purchase a coop apartment in Brooklyn. We have a family friend living with us who would not be on the mortgage, but whom we would like to keep as our roommate. Should we mention this fact to the coop board?

We've been looking for some time, and have decided that a Brooklyn coop would be right for us, particularly in the Sunset Park area. Financially we're in very good shape, with excellent credit, and if not for the roommate issue I wouldn't be at all worried about pleasing a potential coop board.

My SO and I have gotten lots of conflicting advice about this, from friends as well as real estate brokers we've been speaking to. Some people say this is a "don't ask, don't tell" situation, and we shouldn't mention the roommate at all...but our friend would be living with us full-time for the indefinite future, and I'm sure other people in the building would notice. Others have said we should explicitly bring our friend up, but bend the truth slightly by saying that the friend is only staying with us for the time being and won't be paying rent. Others have urged us to ask to get a clause allowing us to sublet to a roommate explicitly written into our agreement with the coop board.

The theme in all of this seems to be "it depends on the coop board," but I would appreciate any personal anecdotes of dealing with a situation like ours. I would hate for our negotiations with future coop boards to be ruined by this issue, but I'm unwilling to kick our dear friend to the curb.

Please assume, as well, that avoiding coops isn't an option.

(Anon because my mefi profile is googleable, and I don't want potential boards seeing that I've asked this question)
posted by anonymous to Home & Garden (3 answers total)
(I am on a Brooklyn Coop Board)

As a general rule of thumb, Boards are usually concerned with knowing who is regularly coming and going in the building, and that everyone knows and respect the House Rules (noise, trash, use of common areas, etc).

The Board should, and probably will, ask during the interview who is going to be living in the apartment. If you lie, it's guaranteed you will get caught. Don't lie. IANAL, but the consequences will vary a lot based on essentially the personality of the Board- they won't want to evict you, but there's a lot of discretionary room for fines. And you'll be forever known as the People Who Are Not Cooperative. Don't start your relationship this way.

How this is handled will depend a lot on your specific situations, but if you were a potential tenant in my (16-unit, YMMV) building, here are some things I'd be thinking about:

- Our proprietary lease has specific language about who can live in a unit. Typically, the language is something like "owners and their immediate family". The Board does have the discretion to allow someone beyond that scope to live there (typically someone like a live-in s.o.). It's usually not a problem, but know that it is discretionary and can be revoked.

- Is this person occupying a bedroom that would otherwise be vacant? Put another way, is the place you're looking to buy meant to house 3 people or 2? I'd be concerned about increased wear and tear.

- If this person is going to be there for a significant time (over a year), I'd actually be more comfortable if this roommate were paying something toward the apartment (like your maintenance). Obviously, this is impossible to enforce, but a good Board in a good building wants to make sure that tenants have a stake in things. This has come up for us before with parents buying apartments for their children.

- Related, you may be asked to pay some portion of the sublet fee.

Good luck!
posted by mkultra at 8:59 AM on March 1, 2011

If you don't ask/don't tell or bend the truth, you run the risk of the board assessing fines or insisting that you kick him out. Even if they verbally agree that he can live there, ugly situations can develop in co-ops and you'd lack the protection of a written agreement. Your degree of comfort with running those risks is a personal thing. (IANYL and this isn't legal advice, but I have seen some nasty vendettas in co-ops, and shareholders can have very little protection in those situations.)
posted by Mavri at 9:39 AM on March 1, 2011

From what (little) I know, coop boards might be uncomfortable with transitory situations with people who aren't fully committed to the well being of the coop/building.

How long have you been living with this person? If it's been long term and stable, it may be best to present this situation not as a roommate one, but as a household one. Not all households are married couples +- kids, and this is just what your household looks like. You all are sharing the costs, the same way as presumably you and your spouse are sharing the costs without necessarily one of you paying 'rent' to the other, but just because a household shares and divides costs in various ways.

Good luck!
posted by Salamandrous at 9:51 AM on March 1, 2011

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