By Ronda Kaysen
Q. Twenty years ago, I bought a penthouse condominium on the Upper East Side with a 1,200-square-foot landscaped terrace. Now all the planters must be removed so the terrace can be renovated, as part of a special building project. Because most of them hold mature trees and shrubs, they are too heavy to move, so I will have to spend $8,000 to destroy the containers and the foliage to remove them. After the renovation is complete, I will have to buy new containers and new trees or shrubs, at a cost of $12,000. Am I responsible for paying or is the board responsible?
A. A landscaped terrace is a rarity in the city, a private (and often expensive) oasis. Now, your condo board is asking you to uproot your sanctuary and shell out $20,000 to do the deed and replace it. If this was my secret garden, I would not be pleased.
So who should bear the financial burden of this unpleasant task? The condo’s declaration will provide you with your answer. Usually a terrace is considered “a limited common element,” meaning that the board is responsible for maintaining and repairing the structure, while you are responsible for maintaining all that is on it, said Rachel Sigmund, a real estate lawyer in Manhattan. In other words, you would have to pay to remove the planters and their contents and to replace them, while the board would have to pay to repair the terrace structure.
But you may be able to offset some of the costs. You could file a claim with your homeowner’s insurance to cover the costs of demolishing and replacing the planters, Ms. Sigmund said.
You may also be able to get some help from the board. “I have heard of buildings paying for the demolition” and removal of the plants, said Amber Freda, a landscape designer, who noted that your cost estimates sound typical. Still, she added, “I have not ever heard of a building paying for a new garden after the renovations are completed.”
But you may be able to work out a deal with the board to reimburse you for out-of-pocket expenses that are not covered by your insurance, Ms. Sigmund said, particularly if the building is doing work required by city rules, like repairing the facade.