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What Is An Alteration Agreement?

You’ve lived in your home for some time now, and you’re ready for a change -- you’ve always dreamed of knocking down that one wall to expand and create a true chef’s kitchen. After saving up, you are finally ready for your renovation. Unfortunately, the architect you’ve hired comes back with news that puts a halt on your renovation fantasies; your building’s alteration agreement restricts wet over dry, and the wall you want to knock down is a load bearing wall that can’t be removed. While an alteration agreement might seem onerous to many who dream of big renovation projects, they are there to ensure that the entire building is functioning properly for all residents.

An alteration agreement is a set of documents that essentially lay out the do’s and dont’s of renovating in your building. The specifics of alteration agreements may vary between buildings, but their purpose is the same whether you live in a coop, a condo, a new development, etc. Alteration agreements protect the building from any sort of change that might damage the building or negatively impact the quality of life of residents. For example, many buildings prevent “wet over dry” renovations, which means extending any room with plumbing (kitchen, bathroom) over rooms with no plumbing (living room, bedrooms, etc.) for fear of leaks, or disturbance of your downstairs neighbor (if you put a toilet directly above their bedroom). Again, while this seems more of a hindrance on your renovation plans, keep in mind that your own quality of life (and sanity) could be significantly weakened by some of your neighbor’s renovation plans if an alteration agreement didn’t exist.

Often if the work you have planned doesn’t touch electrical, plumbing, or knocking down walls, a certificate of insurance from your contractor can suffice in lieu of a formal alteration agreement with full plans. I recommend that you speak to the superintendent for your building before anyone else as that person will be able to best guide you through the ins and outs of your building and potentially save you time and headache.

For more major projects, almost all alteration agreements will mandate that proper permits be obtained and architect plans be submitted. There are many ways to go about this process, so be sure to explore options with several options from a wide range individuals -- general contractors, architects, designers, design-and-build firms -- to decide what the best approach is for your project.

Alteration agreements go beyond hard and fast rules for altering your layout -- they often cover everything from what time construction can happen, the timeframe of the project, insurance coverage (for the building and the workers), as well as noise regulations. Some buildings are more strict than others, and reviewing the agreement for the property you are considering is a big part of due diligence when buying an apartment as onerous rules can increase the time and cost of renovations.

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