Can Your Apartment Building Ban Overnight Guests?

The Four Percent


Q: During the pandemic, a number of people in my Manhattan co-op have left the city for second homes. Concerned that shareholders were letting visitors stay in the empty apartments, the board enacted a new rule: Shareholders must now request authorization for any overnight guest. I understand the concern, but this rule seems to overstep the board’s authority. Do I need to ask permission if I want an overnight guest to stay with me? As a single woman, I am not comfortable with this invasion of my privacy.

A: Your co-op cannot prevent you from having guests spend the night at your apartment. The Real Property Law, a state rule, allows you to have an additional occupant so long as you occupy the apartment as your primary residence. Overnight guests would be considered occupants under the law. “You can have a roommate and you can have guests,” said Steven R. Wagner, a Manhattan real estate lawyer.

Co-ops do have a history of restricting visitors when the owners are out of town, but the specifics of the situation matter: The board could certainly step in if someone is renting out their apartment on Airbnb, because the Multiple Dwelling Law prohibits rentals of less than 30 days unless the occupant of the apartment is present. But if one of your neighbors leaves the city for a few weeks and lets a friend or family member stay, they could probably point to the Real Property Law in their defense, so long as the apartment is the owner’s primary residence. (Although during the pandemic, one co-op did stop a shareholder from letting his brother stay in his vacant apartment while he volunteered at a Manhattan hospital.)

“There is a patchwork of rules covering this stuff, and these rules all overlap,” Mr. Wagner said. “The law is a mess in this area.”

The problem with a blanket rule is that it ends up covering situations, like yours, that really have nothing to do with the problem the board is trying to address. You don’t need to get permission from your board every time a guest stays in your home. You could simply ignore the rule and make that argument if someone challenges you. Or, you could address it preemptively. Write the board a letter, explaining that the new rule violates state law. Since laws supersede building rules, tell the board that you will not seek authorization for your guests. In all likelihood, the board will back down.

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