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  • Feb 1, 2016
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Rules for Clearing Off Snow and Ice

Responsibility for Shoveling

I know that property owners in the city are responsible for clearing snow in front of their properties. But what about along the side? The store owner at the end of my block routinely clears away the snow from the sidewalk in front of the store, but never from the sidewalk that runs along the side of the building. Must a shopkeeper also clear the side of a property?

Upper West Side, Manhattan

Digging out of a major snowstorm is a grueling task, as we were all recently reminded. But if you are responsible for property in the city, you must keep it clear of snow and ice, including the parts that you do not frequently traverse. The shopkeeper needs to pick up the shovel and finish the work, even if customers enter only through the front door.

City rules require residents, property owners and business owners to keep the public areas surrounding their buildings safe after a winter storm. That includes shoveling the sidewalk along the side of the building. It also means keeping street corners clear so pedestrians can get to the crosswalk. (So, the next time you scale a snow mound to find the crosswalk, you could blame the nearest property owner.)

While the shopkeeper is shoveling, he or she should also remove snow and ice from catch basins, keep hydrants clear and disperse any puddles that form.

Property owners have a few hours’ reprieve after the storm to get to work, but the snow, slush and ice should not be left to linger. If the street does not get shoveled in a timely manner, you could report the conditions to 311 and the Department of Sanitation could issue a violation.

Window Wars

I open the windows in the lobby of my co-op building for ventilation — the area gets overheated and cigarette smoke from a first-floor apartment creates a stench. The managing agent sent me a letter telling me to stop and later fined me $100 for doing this. The letter stated that rain could get in and make the polished terrazzo floors slick, causing people to slip and fall. Management offers no solution to the ventilation problems. Couldn’t they put nonskid mats on the floor? Or, the super could simply close the windows when it rains. Do you have any suggestions?

Bay Ridge, Brooklyn

Your concerns sound legitimate, but your strategy is alienating the very people who could address them. If every shareholder took matters into his or her own hands whenever a problem arose, the building would be in a state of chaos. Remember, the board, not individual shareholders, manages the corporation.

“Individual shareholders do not have any right to decide what common-area windows should or should not be opened,” said Marc J. Luxemburg, a Manhattan real estate lawyer. “Particularly if there is a risk of harm to other shareholders.”

Your actions clearly unleashed the wrath of the board and might also have exacerbated the problem you want fixed. “Opening windows in common spaces can cause drafts and temperature fluctuations,” said Peter E. Varsalona, a principal at RAND Engineering and Architecture.

There are ways that these ventilation issues could be improved, but you have to convince the board to take them seriously. In a letter, apologize for going rogue. Use the forum to explain your very legitimate concerns and your expectations that the board will do what it has been elected to do and fix problems in the building. For example, the building could add a mechanical ventilation system to provide better ventilation, Mr. Varsalona said. For that, it should consult an engineer.

Managing the odor from cigarette smoke might be difficult, but the board should try. The smoker could place an air filtration or ventilation system in his unit. Ultimately, that apartment might need to be sealed along walls, floors and ceilings so smoke does not seep into the lobby or other units.

But so long as you keep opening windows against the building’s orders, the only nuisance the building will address is the one you create.

Rebuilding a Roof Deck

We live in a co-op apartment on the top floor of a brownstone and had to take down our roof deck for some repairs on the roof. Is it helpful to rebuild the deck before selling?

Park Slope, Brooklyn

Before you build a new deck just to please a potential buyer, do the math. Depending on materials, a roof deck could cost you anywhere from $20 to $65 a square foot, according to Kurt Searles, a general contractor who specializes in exterior facades. You might not recover that investment when you sell. (And there is no price for the headache you can get from dealing with contractors and co-op board approvals.) “Homeowners rarely recoup the full value of improvements they make,” said Joseph Rand, a managing partner at Better Homes and Gardens Rand Realty.

Before you proceed, hire an engineer to inspect the roof to ensure your plan is even feasible. “Just because there was a previous roof deck does not mean that the roof can sustain a new one,” Mr. Searles said. “Materials can vary greatly in weight.”

Next, enlist a few brokers to confirm that the work will pay off in a significantly higher selling price. Your new addition will likely bring new buyers into the fold, but you need to figure out how much more they would be willing to pay for the amenity.

“I often work with buyers who must have outdoor space,” said Anna Kahn, an associate broker for Halstead Property. “And these properties can be hard to find.”

Another option: Hire an architect to design a deck you never build. When you list your apartment, market it as one with the potential for a roof deck, architectural drawings included.

“Buyers can then build the deck the way they want it, not the way you want it,” Mr. Rand said.

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