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How can I protect my rights as a tenant while renting in a condo?

You'll want to look carefully through your lease agreement. 

Ian D. Keating / Flickr

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Question:

I'm interested in renting a condo rather than a regular rental apartment, because the buildings and the overall quality seem nicer. I don't want to be in a situation where the owner is showing it for sale while I’m still living there, though. How do I protect myself? What else do I need to know?

Answer:

Renting in a condo can, indeed, mean a newer, fancier space, but there are some downsides as well, our experts say.

Shiny new condo developments abound in NYC, and renting directly from an owner of a condo unit gives you better odds of a clean, sleek space with quality fixtures and appliances. It also comes with the advantages of renting from a small landlord, and in some cases, the chance to buy the apartment yourself (for more information, see our recent stories on the pros and cons and what you can negotiate when renting in a condo.) 

On the flip side, you are right to be concerned about the owner showing the space to potential buyers while you're still living there—or worse, giving you the boot before your lease term is up.

"The tenant needs to read carefully through every paragraph of the condo lease, as some Blumberg leases [a standardized form for NYC rentals] give the owner the right to sell the apartment by giving the tenant 30 days' notice to vacate, which is perfectly legal," says Dennis Hughes, a broker with Corcoran

There may also be language in your lease outlining the owner's right to show the apartment to interested buyers or renters during your tenancy, he adds, particularly toward the end of your lease. 

"You as the tenant need to negotiate these terms with the landlord owner so you are protected," Hughes says. "In rare cases, the apartment can be sold without ever being shown; however, your tenancy is protected by the covenants of your existing lease for the term of your lease." 

You should also check your lease for provisions that state the condo owner has the right to enter the apartment during your tenancy if they provide notice, or without notice if there is an emergency.

"That provision should be modified to say that access will be permitted on reasonable notice to inspect for or to make repairs, but only by the landlord, its managing agent, its architect or contractors, and that access shall not be permitted for the purpose of showing the apartment for sale," says Steven Wagner, partner at Wagner, Berkow & Brandt (a Brick sponsor).

"Access in the event of an emergency should stay the same, although you may want to define emergency as 'an event dangerous to life, health and safety of persons or property requiring immediate attention.' This will allow you to say no to a broker or to a prospective purchaser in all situations," he says. 

You may also want to request the addition of language in your lease requiring your landlord to inspect the apartment before you move out, Wagner adds, so that you have the opportunity to make any needed minor repairs and avoid losing your security deposit. 

Insurance is another way to protect yourself, and in fact, there's a good chance the condo owner will expect you to purchase a policy in order to rent from them. 

"The owner will most likely want you to show proof of liability insurance," says Jeffrey Schneider of Gotham Brokerage (a Brick sponsor.) "Limits of $1,000,000 and under can be obtained inexpensively, but above that, it can be pricey." 


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