Manager, or Landlord? Understanding the Scope of Management Responsibilities

Many co-op shareholders and condo unit owners arrive in their respective communities after a history of living as renters. Often they carry with them certain ingrained assumptions and expectations from having lived under a landlord. These assumptions can cause friction – because while the board of a co-op association and/or its management company may take on some responsibilities similar to those of a landlord, these are very different entities operating under distinct mandates.

“Some people definitely don’t understand the boundaries between what they’re responsible for and what the association should handle,” says Bob Keegan, President with Dirigo Management Company in Portland, Maine. “They think they buy a unit, pay a monthly fee, and everything is taken care of. They’ll call us with an issue that doesn’t fall under management purview, and we’ll offer to send somebody over, but let them know that it will be at their expense. And they’re mystified because they pay that fee. So we’ll have to explain [that] when they bought their unit, they signed off on a whole bunch of documents explaining the delineation of responsibilities between individuals and the association. Of course, when you’re closing on a home, you don’t necessarily read all of those docs with the keenest eye, but you have to learn eventually.”

As far as recurring complaints that actually fall to the owners, Keegan cites things immediately outside of a townhome unit, like a light or doorbell. “Those items are powered via the owner’s meter box,” he says. “It may exist outside of a unit, but these are not common elements.”

Compared to the multifamily markets in places like New York and New Jersey, condos and HOAs in New England reign supreme while co-ops are more rare. But this doesn’t stop owners there from having unreasonable expectations for their board or managing agent as well. 

In New York, some of the distinctions between co-op boards and rental landlords are laid out via the “warranty of habitability,” or New York Real Property Law Section 235-b. In short, because co-op shareholders occupy their units under a proprietary lease, they fall under the protection provided by the warranty of habitability that requires that the property be maintained in good repair. This means that the board may, for example, be required to repair interior walls and ceilings within shareholder apartments. 

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