Image Credit: Michael Kolomatsky/The New York Times
Ask Real Estate is a weekly column that answers questions from across the New York region. Submit yours to email@example.com.
No Garden of Eden
I own the garden apartment of a Brooklyn brownstone on a quiet residential block. This summer a cafe opened on an adjacent street and put tables out on a newly built deck that directly abuts my yard. The cafe built a six-foot fence atop my five-foot fence, making an 11-foot barricade to sunlight. This I could live with. What I can’t live with is the noise. Saturdays and Sundays are ruined by loud conversations and crying babies. I can also hear the noise inside my apartment. I am deeply concerned about the effect this has on the value of my property. Is there anything I can do?
Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn
Of the few respites New Yorkers have from the relentless noise of the city, a private yard is among the most coveted. So sharing your secret garden with half of Carroll Gardens must be unnerving.
While backyard cafes are not regulated as much as sidewalk cafes, they do have to follow city rules about noise and building codes, according to Michael J. Ciarlo, a Manhattan real estate lawyer. In the spirit of neighborliness, pay the restaurant a visit. Explain to the owner that the volume disrupts your peace and quiet both inside and outside your home. If the restaurateur dismisses your complaints — which is possible because it sounds as if the outdoor cafe is popular — enlist the city in your effort.
Complain to your local community board, which might have approved the backyard cafe and could contact the owners on your behalf. You could lodge a noise complaint with the Department of Environmental Protection. When an inspector returns your call, schedule a visit during peak hours — like Saturday brunch. However, the noise code addresses the noise restaurants make with music, not with customers talking, so reporting noise concerns might not solve the problem.
You could also contact the Buildings Department: Does the cafe have the proper permits? Has it filed plans describing the use of the space? Does it violate any rules about fire exits and emergency lighting? Is the space even zoned for commercial use?
If the cafe has a liquor license, call the State Liquor Authority to complain. If a restaurateur is going to listen to anyone, he or she will listen to the agency that doles out liquor licenses.
As to your property value, unfortunately a noisy cafe hidden behind a looming fence is not a desirable amenity. Kathy Braddock, a managing director of the New York City office of the brokerage William Raveis, said, “That kind of noise would limit the number of people who would want to look at the apartment, as well as those who would consider buying it.”
Death and Leases
I am an 86-year-old living in Manhattan in a $4,095-a-month market-rate apartment. I recently signed a two-year lease. If I die before the expiration of the lease, is my daughter obligated for the remainder?
Upper East Side, Manhattan
In the event of your death, your estate, not your daughter, would be responsible for the lease. While landlords of rent-stabilized apartments are often eager to get tenants out, market-rate apartments are different. A landlord would not want to lose money while an apartment sits vacant until it can be rented again. Unless the estate has no money to pay the rent, the landlord would expect checks to keep coming. “The idea that the landlord will simply let the estate surrender a free-market lease is not what happens, unless it appears there is no money in the estate,” said Robert D. Goldstein, a Manhattan lawyer who represents landlords.
But a provision in the state’s Real Property Law allows an estate to find someone to take over the lease. If the request is reasonable, the landlord must accept it or agree to terminate the lease. If the landlord rejects a reasonable request, the lease would be terminated. You must “follow the statute specifically,” Mr. Goldstein said, “so that you comply with it and get the benefit.”
Buying as a Group
We are three friends who would like to buy a three-family townhouse, with each person owning a separate unit. If the seller wants to sell the townhouse to one entity, how can we buy it so that each of us has a mortgage according to his own credit? We would also like to control the sale of any unit in case one of us wants to sell. Could we form a co-op with three people?
West Harlem, Manhattan
The idea of buying a multifamily property with friends sounds like a lot of fun — you would certainly know who your neighbors were. But actually doing it is far more complicated than buying an apartment in an existing condominium or co-op.
“There are at least two distinct issues, namely how to take title and secondly, how to finance the purchase,” said Mary L. Kosmark, a Manhattan real estate lawyer.
The first part is relatively simple: You and your friends could buy the property as tenants in common and take title to the building. You then would issue shares that correspond to the relative value of each unit. (An appraiser could help you fairly price each unit.)
After that, you would apply to the New York attorney general’s office to convert the property to a co-op or a condo, a process that typically involves a two-year waiting period. During this time, you would collectively own the property, which would be governed by your tenants-in-common agreement, according to Leni Morrison Cummins, a Manhattan real estate lawyer.
The agreement would “lay the ground rules,” Ms. Cummins said, and it would explain how the owners would “all work together to make sure they can keep the peace until they have their own ownership stake in the condo.”
Now for the hard part: paying for the property. Because it would be considered a single property at the time of the sale, a bank would probably not issue separate mortgages to each of you. So, for the time being, you would be in this together. As tenants in common you would take out a single mortgage to buy the property and collectively make a payment each month, according to Ms. Kosmark.
Once the building became a co-op or condo, each of you would apply for an individual mortgage based on the agreed-upon purchase price for each unit. At the closing, you would pay down the original mortgage. Voilà! You would have created your own condo or co-op.