Accessing Units Balancing Privacy and Expediency

Owning a unit in a multifamily co-op or condo carries a great many benefits in the form of shared responsibilities, but it also requires compromises along the lines of control: what your board, management, and building staff can or cannot do. One area where such compromises have the potential to lead to uncomfortable conflicts is the issue of how, when, and under what circumstances residents must grant management or staff access to the unit for maintenance, inspections, and at times emergencies when the owner may not choose or even be present. 

How can building managers and board members minimize the concerns of nervous owners who refuse access to their units? These necessary negotiations often have clear protocols enshrined in a building or HOA’s governing documents (and sometimes even local housing codes), but respectful practices of engagement and education around the boundaries that exist can minimize tension, promote transparency, and make a difference in a building culture. 

Codes of Conduct and Where to Find Them

Entering privately-owned homes when their owners aren’t present is sometimes necessary for maintenance purposes, and to make repairs quickly in the case of unexpected mishaps. Says Mark S. Einhorn, a partner at the Braintree, Massachusetts-based law firm of Marcus Errico Emmer & Brooks P.C.,  “Under the Massachusetts Condominium Statute, the managing board has a right of access to any unit for the purpose of maintaining, repairing, and replacing any of the common areas or facilities that are accessible from the unit, or for making emergency repairs necessary to prevent damage to the common areas or other units.”

Because an infestation of pests, a leak, or some other condition in one unit might put the entire building at risk, Einhorn says, “The board could request access to the unit under the statute for the purpose of performing exterminating.

“In addition,” he continues, “many condominium documents contain provisions which grant the managing board the right to mandate that an owner perform maintenance or repair work if the condition of the unit poses a hazard or nuisance to other residents. Clearly, if the unit is infested with cockroaches and/or mice, that condition constitutes an ongoing nuisance and a health hazard to all of the residents in the building. This type of provision is typically found in the bylaws or declaration of trust, and usually states a time period by which the owner must comply with the demand. If the owner fails to comply with the board’s demand, most provisions grant the board the right to access the unit for the purpose of performing the repair.”

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