Renovating Your Co-Op in NYC

by | Last updated May 30, 2020 | Apartment Renovations, Renovations

Can you renovate your Co-Op in NYC?

You can renovate your Co-Op apartment in NYC as long as you abide by the Co-Op rules and the alteration agreement. When renovating your Co-Op you will enter a contractual agreement with your building’s Co-Op board known as an alteration agreement.

A Co-Op Alteration Agreement is a contract between a Co-Op board and an apartment owner. The agreement outlines the building’s regulations and the responsibilities of all parties involved when renovating your co-op. You will sign your alteration agreement before starting the renovation. The board will often have their own architect review the proposed work before issuing an approval to proceed.


Renovating Your Co-Op

As an architect in NYC I have renovated many apartments in Co-Op buildings. I notice when people call me about renovating their co-op apartment they often have a lot of the same questions. In this post, we will be discussing Co-Op apartment renovations, specifically the typical NYC Co-Op alteration agreement and the general process for renovating an apartment in NYC. You will need to review and sign an alteration agreement with your building board when doing any type of apartment renovations from combining apartments, adding a room, removing a wall, or just cosmetic work.

Manhattan Co-Op Apartment Kitchen Renovation

Manhattan Co-Op Apartment kitchen we renovated (Harlem Apartment Reno)


Renovating Your Co-Op Apartment in NYC


Getting Board Approval For Co-Op Apartment Renovations.

The first thing you should do if you want to renovate your Co-Op is consult with an architect such as myself. We have another post if you want to read more abut NYC Residential Architects and our architectural services. If you are in New York City, by law, you may need an architect depending on the extent of work in the renovation. We always review the scope of work with our clients before beginning the project, as an architect I let my clients know if they will need to file with Department of Buildings (DOB). An architect files plans with the DOB to get approvals and permits.

Apartment renovations in New York City are typically filed with the DOB as an Alteration Type 2 or Alt 2 application. You may need an asbestos test when you renovate, depending when your building was built. You can see another post we wrote explaining when you have to test for asbestos in NYC. The one thing you will always need for your apartment renovation is board approval from your Co-Op Board.


Co-Op Alteration Agreements

First things first. Notify your Co-Op board and building management that you intend to work on your apartment. They will have paperwork and guidelines for apartment renovations in the building. You will need to review your Condo or Co-Op Alteration Agreement.

As the architect we assess the existing conditions and work with you to design your apartment renovation. We then produce a set of technical drawings and documents for the renovation. You then submit the drawings to your Co-Op board and building management company for their review. Sometimes the individual shareholder handles all the communications and sometime the architect does. It is good to establish who is handling what early in the process so that there is no confusion.

Read Your Condo Co-Op Alteration Agreement

Condos and Co-Ops have management companies that handle alteration reviews and alteration agreements. The company will want to review your plans for compliance with building rules and to make sure you are not planning anything that will negatively affect the rest of the building. The management company will consult with their own architect or engineer. I will refer to them as the “reviewing architect”. This reviewing architect or engineer will review the plans. They may have issues to discuss, questions or objections. This is normal. They typically do not approve the job outright. They will send you a list of comments in regards to your project sometimes these are very large and may seem overwhelming. Do not panic if you get ten pages of comments from the reviewing architect just send it over to your architect and let them worry about.

As your architect, we review the building reviewing architect’s issues and respond with revised drawings if necessary and a letter. The letter will address point by point the previous comments and responses. This process can go on for a while, or be quick; it depends on the building and the particular co-op board/management company. The most important thing you need at this phase is patience. Keep in mind the building architect is an adviser and a consultant. Your Co-Op board has the final say on approving your application.

Working With the Co-op Board and the Building Reviewing Architect

Working with a client once, a building’s reviewing architect would not approve of enlarging a bathroom space by taking space from an adjacent closet. My client then decided to attend the Co-Op board’s monthly meeting to ask them for approval personally, and they did approve it. If they say it is OK, it supersedes the building reviewing architect’s objections. As long as it does not violate any codes or cause negative impact on the building in any way. These building review architects can ask for a great deal of information and be rather restrictive in what they would recommend allowing. I once had a building architect ask me to do structural calculations for replacing a 5′ bathtub with a 6′ bathtub. I thought that was ridiculous but we did it. the simple answer is always to give them what they want within reason and pick your battles wisely.

If you find yourself struggling to settle an alteration agreement, go to your Co-op board directly. You may also run into situations where the Co-Op board has instructed the building review architect to look for reasons to deny the application. Yes, that does happen too. In those cases, do everything you can to work within their rules. If you think you are being treated unfairly and need a lawyer, find one with experience in these issues. Only involve a lawyer as a last resort. Always be aware of building rules. As I mentioned in the previous example buildings have lots of rules that may not be actual building codes but just house rules. Many buildings have a rule stating that bathroom enlargements or adding a bathroom is not permitted, while other buildings do allow it. This is called “Wet Over Dry“.

Review Completion

Once the management company review is finished you can proceed to file with the NYC DOB.These are not done at the same time. you must be authorized by your board before you file with the DOB. Your board or management company will cosign the paperwork that your architect will submit to the Department Of Buildings. You will need to get their information to send to your architect before they can start the paperwork to be submitted to the DOB. If Asbestos testing is required this must also be done before filing paperwork with the DOB.

NYC Co-Op Bathroom Gut Renovation

Enlarged bathroom in an NYC Co-Op apartment we gut renovated (UWS Apartment Renovation)


NYC Co-Op Alteration Agreement when Renovating Your Co-Op

Always review your building’s alteration agreement before renovating your Co-Op. Apartment renovations are serious business. Make sure your entire team, architect and contractor, reviews this agreement. Your building can have all sorts of rules that will affect your project. Sometimes they impose financial penalties if the job exceeds a certain allotted time frame. Be careful about selecting a contractor you are confident can get it done on time.

You can find your building rules also make your job bigger. For example if you replace plumbing fixtures, they may require that you replace the shutoff valves and branch piping back to the riser with new copper pipes. This is common. Every building has different rules for apartment renovations, so you can never know exactly what to expect unless you read the Condo or Co-Op Alteration Agreement. We once worked in a building where the Alteration Agreement came with a 300 page book of building rules, I am not exaggerating.


Condo and Co-Op Board Approvals

Once the Co-Op board or management company gives their approval to proceed, you can file with the Department of Buildings. Someone from the Board signs the paperwork for the DOB filing, as well as you and the architect. Be aware that if you make changes after the approval you should submit these changes to the management company, Co-Op board, building architect for review, and file a Post Approval Amendment with DOB. At the completion of the work, the building review architect may come to the job site to do an inspection.

Work With Legit Professionals

Make sure you always hire licensed and insured professionals, even for small apartment renovations. The contractor should be licensed and insured and have a good reputation. The architect should be insured and be a Registered Architect with a good reputation.

Apartment renovations can be stressful. The more prepared you are the better off you will be.


Renovating Your Co-Op Apartment Renovation Rules

As an architect in NYC we do many renovations but every project is different and has its own challenges. The renovation process and building rules are complicated and quite involved. In this article, we reviewed some of the basic issues with regards to Co-Op Board Approvals. This post does not assume to cover every possible issue or condition, but provide a general overview of the topic.

If you would like to read more about apartment renovations we have another article you can check out on Apartment Renovations in NYC.


Thank You for reading our blog post on Co-Op Alteration Agreements and Renovating Your Co-Op.

We wish you the best of luck with your apartment renovation. Please leave questions or comments below. If you wish to discuss a specific project you cancontact us directly. We will be happy to hear about your project.


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Jorge Fontan
Jorge Fontan

This post was written by Jorge Fontan AIA a Registered Architect and owner of New York City architecture firm Fontan Architecture. Jorge Fontan has earned 3 degrees in the study of architecture including two degrees from the City University of New York and a Masters Degree in Advanced Architectural Design from Columbia University. Jorge has a background in construction and has been practicing architecture for 15 years where he has designed renovations and new developments of various building types.