Co-op owners enjoy planning improvements and changes as much as any other homeowner. However, if they want to modify some things, they may have to consult the board and await approval. It depends on the co-op board and what the project is too.

So when can you feel free to perform co-op maintenance and when might you need to notify a board?

What is the distinction behind what type of work requires board approval? Some boards may be very relaxed about exterior improvements while others may want to know exactly what you are planning.

If you want to remove fixtures in your bathroom and alter the tile work and it may require plumbing or even electrical work, a board is likely going to consider that renovation and that would mean notifying the board as well as getting approval and possibly filing an alteration agreement. DIY projects need to be exactly that if you’re going to have approval. Things get complicated once someone gets hired.

Every co-op is different, so dwellers will have to turn to the lease, which may vary lease to lease. Painting may be listed as an alteration by your board or not. Your building may require an alteration agreement and a go-ahead before painting to be sure that anyone painting is insured and even adding the co-op in on the insurance policy as an additional. A standard alteration agreement signed may also be, well, standard.

Some co-ops may also have proprietary leases. These might say that the consent to alterations and renovations in the building cannot ‘be unreasonably withheld’. This means that if a shareholder disagrees with the decision made by the board, then the decision would be subject to a court’s scrutiny. If a building has lead paint involved during a repaint, you may be allowed to paint it yourself but a hired painter would have to go through certification.

For baseline activity, the baseline is what separations renovations from home decorating projects and it involves structural elements. Your improvement project or anyone’s project may be involving work that will affect structural elements like load-bearing walls, plumbing, or electrical systems. This means that you will likely require board approval to even consider taking anything like this on.

With that in mind, remember that you should not buy anything for your projects until you notify the board of your intent and until they officially approve you. Save time, energy, and money in case you are turned down. You can probably switch a light plate yourself, but anything more involved may require approval. At the minimum, you may need to get an alteration agreement submitted to the association as well as permits involved for certain types of work.

The good news is that once you submit an alteration request, most boards have to respond within a period of 30 days. However, approval and work starting may take longer if permits are involved. You can rely on the rule of thumb that if a job is larger, the amount of time before it can be started may be accordingly longer as well.

Regardless of what it is, always get permission before you start a project. Condo and co-op boards may be within rights to fine you for unauthorized work; reason enough to jump through the hoops! Check online, with your managing agent, and with your board before doing anything and then start the project once you’ve got the green light.