Q. We live in a small cooperative in the District of Columbia. The board has been pushing for storm windows to be added in all apartments, maintaining that the cost to be paid by a special assessment from all members would be more than paid for in a few years. A few of us are adamantly insisting that only those who want storm windows should have them installed and that those who do not want them should have to get involved in the special assessment. Our question is: even thought a majority of stock votes the work to be done, doesn't the minority have rights also? What are our legal rights in refusing workmen into the apartments?
A. A cooperative is a corporation. Like any other corporation, if the majority of the share holders approves certain plans or activities, unless they are illegal or against public policy, the majority rules.
In a way, you are fairly lucky. The board in your cooperative appears to want to obtain majority consent to install the storm windows. In many cooperatives, all too often the board of directors -- with or without obtaining majority consent -- has the authority to control the total operations of the corporation, including the installation of storm windows, or anything else for that matter.
In some cooperatives, to curtail this excessive board authority, the majority share holders have insisted that boards of directors not have authority to spend over a certain dollar amount each year without doing back to all of the cooperative members.
Unfortunately, if a majority of the cooperating members vote for the installation of the storm windows, you will have to go along with that decision. Special assessments are tough on the individual budget, but presumably the majority of the membership have weighed the pros and cons of the storm windows and have decided that the benefits outweigh the extra expenses.
Personally, I don't like the idea of having some members install windows while others do not. From an aesthetic point of view, your building may not look nice if different types of storm windows are installed on some apartments.
From a heating-efficiency point of view, especially if you have a central heating system, those who do not install storm windows in their apartments will be defeating the overall purpose of attempting to save on energy.
It is difficult and often frustrating to live in a cooperative or a condominium. Unfortunately, like any other democratic institution, the form of ownership you chosen requires that the will of the majority be followed.
This does not mean, however, that you have no rights. You certainly can mount your own campaign to persuade other co-op members of your views. Also, a certain element of due process must be adhered to when the board makes the decision to install those windows. Comparative prices should be obtained from a number of contractors, to assure the cooperative that you are getting the best-quality installation at the lowest possible price.
It has been said that the cooperative or condominium form of living requires giving up individual rights for the benefit of the association.
If you find yourself in the position that you cannot agree with the decisions of the majority, you either have to persuade them that they are wrong or you will have to move out.