Ask Real Estate



Tending a Pit Garden

For decades, I have tended the pit garden — that little plot of soil surrounding the sidewalk tree — outside my townhouse, purchasing plants, mulch and soil. I even coordinated with the city to replace a tree. Many neighbors have complimented me on my work and expressed gratitude. But last fall, a spokesman for the block association (I did not even know we had one!) said he planned to landscape all the pit gardens on the block to give them a uniform look. This spring, he asked me to remove my plantings and garden elsewhere. He has already replanted one side of the street. My understanding is that the city owns the pit gardens, not the block association. I was doing urban beautification long before he was around. Should I continue as usual? What do you suggest?

Upper West Side, Manhattan

Has no one told your block association spokesman that beauty is in the eye of the beholder? Well-meaning and enthusiastic as he might be, not everyone wants all the sidewalk trees on the block wrapped in matching begonias. Some people prefer a more eclectic look to their neighborhood tree pits.

Personal tastes aside, pit gardens belong to the city, not the block association or a homeowner. They are overseen by the Parks Department, which encourages New Yorkers, including block associations, to beautify tree beds on their blocks.

If you want to plant the one in front of your townhouse like a wild English garden, that is your prerogative. And if the spokesman with a green thumb has different ideas for the pits near his home, more power to him. “No one has the right to make someone remove their flowers,” said Stephanie Buhle, a spokeswoman for City Councilwoman Helen Rosenthal.

But before you draw your line in the mulch, take a deep breath. You might have more in common with your adversary than you think: You both appreciate a good garden. Try to appeal to your shared joy. Rather than attempt to bench you, the block association could tap your expertise to help improve other tree beds on the block.

The next time your neighbor shows up with a spade and some hostas, politely tell him that while you appreciate his efforts, you do not share his aesthetic vision. Explain that you plan to keep your tree bed landscaped as it is, but (assuming you want to) you would be happy to offer suggestions or tips on how to beautify other ones on the block.

If you reach a stalemate, contact an organization like the Citizens Committee for New York City, a nonprofit group that supports neighborhoods. It could help mediate a discussion between you and the block association. Ultimately, you both want the same thing: a green sidewalk.

Leases and Divorce

My name is on the lease of my rent-stabilized apartment, but so is my ex-husband’s. He moved out of the apartment five years ago, and our divorce was finalized in 2014. I am getting remarried in September and would like to remove his name and replace it with my fiancé’s. What is the best way to approach this?

Upper West Side, Manhattan

I can understand why you would not want to share the lease with your ex-husband. Assuming you are on good — or at least speaking — terms with your ex, call him. Ask him to provide you with an affidavit or a notarized letter stating that he has permanently vacated the apartment and relinquishes any rights to it, said Jennifer Addonizio Rozen, a Manhattan lawyer who represents tenants.

If your ex-husband will not comply or if you have no way to contact him, write the landlord a letter explaining the situation. Request that the landlord remove your ex-husband’s name from the lease when it comes up for renewal. If your landlord ignores you and sends a new one with both of your names on it, sign the lease in your name and strike out your ex-husband’s, Ms. Rozen said.

As for your fiancé, once you are married, you have the right to have the name of your spouse added to the lease as an additional tenant, so long as the apartment is his primary residence, Ms. Rozen said. After you are married, request that his name be added to the lease.

Inspection Options

I am buying a co-op apartment, and the board just approved my application. I close next week. Is there such a thing as an inspection report or an engineering report for an apartment to check things like air-conditioning, heating, water pressure and structural integrity, as there is for a house?

Murray Hill, Manhattan

When someone buys a house, he or she almost invariably hires an inspector to make sure the roof is in good condition, the boiler works and the foundation is stable. But a co-op is different. You do not own the roof or the boiler. For the most part, you are responsible for maintaining what lies within your walls and the co-op is responsible for maintaining the building, said Lior Aldad, a Manhattan real estate lawyer.

For this reason, co-op inspections are uncommon. Instead, most buyers conduct a walk-through of the apartment with their broker, checking appliances and outlets to make sure everything works. There are times, however, when an inspection is a good idea — if the apartment has outdoor space like a terrace, for example, said Lisa Fitzig, an associate broker with Corcoran. And if a previous owner renovated the apartment, you might want the work inspected (particularly since co-op boards are generally not responsible for maintaining elements that have been changed or modified, Mr. Aldad said).

But even if your apartment is a good candidate for an inspection, that ship has sailed. If inspections happen at all, they occur before a contract is signed, not days before you close the deal. “At this point in the process, I am not sure it would be helpful,” Ms. Fitzig said.

Try not to fret. If your lawyer did his due diligence, he or she should have alerted you to any problems in the building. “I’m sure the attorney would have read something disastrous in the minutes or noticed something in the financials” if anything was awry, said Peggy Dahan, an associate broker at Siderow Residential Group. At this point, your best bet is to pay close attention to details during the final walk-through.