Can I Expand the Deck at My Condo?


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Michael Kolomatsky/The New York Times

Extending a Deck

I own a ground-floor apartment in a condominium. I have exclusive use of the backyard, although I do not own it. I have a deck in the yard that I would like to enlarge and possibly enclose. Do I need permission from the other condo residents?

Elmhurst, Queens

Fourth of July weekend sounds like the perfect time to mull a bigger and better deck. With a larger deck — and one that is enclosed, to keep those pesky mosquitoes away — you could certainly get good use out of the backyard.

But before you start picking out patio furniture, consult a lawyer and an architect, because you will most likely need the condominium board’s approval for the work, according to Dennis H. Greenstein, a Manhattan real estate lawyer.

Although the board might ultimately approve a bigger deck, it will probably not welcome the idea of an enclosed one.

You would probably need approval from the other unit owners, too, although the board might decide that it has the limited authority to grant you permission without a vote from all the owners, said Ronald A. Sher, a real estate lawyer who represents condo and co-op boards.

Your plans will also have to comply with the city’s building code and zoning law, which brings us to the problem of an enclosed deck. Enclosing the deck might require using the building’s unused development rights, also known as air rights, Mr. Greenstein said.

An enclosure could have other implications. By enclosing the deck, you are potentially claiming part of the backyard as additional living space. After all, people do insulate such enclosures, furnish them with indoor furniture and use them year round.

“Nobody’s going to approve the enclosure,” Mr. Sher said, because it will mean “you’ve expanded your habitable space.”

Trouble in the Basement?

I renovated my basement to get rid of mold, adding French drains and waterproofing materials. While the work was being done, I inhaled construction dust and now I have ongoing respiratory problems. Whenever I’m at home, I experience nausea, a persistent cough and tightening in my chest. The doctors have been unable to pinpoint the cause, and I am worried that the waterproofing materials might be the problem. How do I find out?

Fort Salonga, Long Island

To figure out whether something in your basement is irritating your airways, spend a few days away from home. If your condition improves and then worsens upon your return, you have some valuable information.

Taking this step “can help in making some general decisions about what to do about the symptoms,” said E. Neil Schachter, the Maurice Hexter Professor of Pulmonary Medicine at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, although you should be aware that some symptoms might persist even after you remove the irritant.

Once you know that your home is the source of your problems, give your basement a closer look. Ask your contractor to help you get the product names and safety data sheets for the waterproofing materials to find out what components they contain.

“If some or all the components are known to cause airway irritation or sensitization, then you may have potential culprits,” Dr. Schachter said.

But the new materials might not be the problem. Your basement did have mold. The work you did — installing French drains and waterproofing the area — may have helped. But if your basement is still damp, the mold could be lingering. And mold can cause respiratory problems.

“Even though you have stopped liquid water from entering, there is still often an issue with water evaporating through the foundation walls and concrete floor slab,” said Edward Olmsted, the president of Olmsted Environmental Services in Garrison, N.Y.

Does your basement feel dank? Basements in older houses can become humid when water vapor from wet soil around and under the house migrates through the foundation wall and slab. Your basement does not need to flood for mold to grow. It just needs high humidity.

Buy a humidity meter and leave it in the basement to check the levels. Look for evidence of mold on your walls, on cardboard boxes and on books. Call a mold inspector.

If you find more mold or high humidity, install a dehumidification system. Improve the drainage around the house to keep water at bay. “Above all, do not have carpeting in basements,” Mr. Olmsted said. “And be very careful about finishing basements.”

Honoring a Religious Request

An Orthodox Jewish couple wants to buy my co-op apartment. But they will do so only if the elevator becomes a “Sabbath” elevator, meaning it would automatically stop at every floor on Fridays after sunset, on Saturdays and on Jewish holidays, so observant Jews would not have to violate religious rules by pressing elevator buttons on those days. This service is not currently provided in our co-op. Can the board be forced to change the elevators if I sell my apartment to this couple?

Riverdale, Bronx

Some apartment buildings in New York — particularly in neighborhoods with large Jewish populations, like parts of the Lower East Side — have elevators programmed to operate automatically on the Sabbath. But this is not commonplace, and apartment buildings that do not provide the service are not required to do so.

The city’s Human Rights Law does not require a “reasonable accommodation” in housing for religious reasons, said Dani Schwartz, a Manhattan lawyer, so a landlord or a co-op board is not obligated to make such an accommodation for the religious practices of a tenant or a shareholder.

“For disabilities, or religion in the workplace, yes,” Mr. Schwartz said. “For religion in housing, no.”

The couple could ask the board to make the change anyway. If your building has a large Sabbath-observant population, your buyers might find that the board is amenable to such a proposal.

But they should not buy the apartment with the expectation that the board will accommodate their request. Even if the board entertained the idea, reconfiguring elevators is no easy task.

“It’s not so simple,” said Robert Cuzzi, a principal of VDA, an elevator consultancy, who is based in its New York office. “There are dozens of different types of elevator control systems in the industry installed over the last 25 years, and each control system is different, so there wouldn’t be a single ‘fix.’ ”

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