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When a Doorman Is Underage

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Credit Michael Kolomatsky/The New York Times




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Double Shift for a Teenager

The condominium in which I rent an apartment employs a 16-year-old doorman. He recently worked a double shift on a Sunday, from 7 a.m. until 11 p.m., which violates state child labor laws. I find myself in an ethical quandary. Isn’t the condo open to prosecution for breaking child labor laws? Do we have a responsibility to this child to enforce the rules so he is not exploited? At the same time, what if he is the only wage earner in his family? Any thoughts on what to do?

Upper East Side, Manhattan

Child labor laws, many of which were enacted at the start of the last century, were designed to protect children from being exploited, even if their families needed the money. Children may no longer toil under the poor conditions that led to the sweeping changes, but the laws remain relevant.

At 16, the doorman is considered a school-age child — New York City does not allow teenagers to quit school until 17. So, he should not work a double shift until 11 p.m. on a school night, and the manager that scheduled him should know this. (Even when school is out of session, 16-year-olds are generally not allowed to work more than an eight-hour shift, according to state labor laws.)

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“Do we have a responsibility to this child to enforce the rules?” said Walker G. Harman Jr., a Manhattan labor lawyer. “Morally, I say yes. Absolutely.”

The condo is also exposing itself to considerable risk. In violating these laws, which limit how many hours a child can work and under what conditions, the building could get sued, investigated by the New York State Department of Labor or fined. Condo unit owners could end up shouldering legal fees and fines the building incurs, potentially leading to an assessment or an increase in common charges.

The young doorman’s family might depend on his income, as you suggested, but that does not give the building the right to flout laws that were designed to protect the welfare of children. If the building complies with the rules, the teenager would still be able to work, just not under conditions that compromise his ability to get an education.

You could start by speaking with the doorman directly. He might not know his rights — or that he cannot be fired for demanding that his employer follow the law. You should also tell the managing agent and the board in writing that labor laws are being violated.

“Say: ‘We love this kid, we don’t want him to leave, but he’s being taken advantage of,’ ” said Steven D. Sladkus, a Manhattan real estate lawyer. “Somebody’s got to know what’s going on. It could turn out to be a big deal.”

If no one heeds your warnings, you could file a report with the Labor Department, leading to an investigation of the building. But if you take that step, be aware of the risks. As a whistle-blowing renter, you could be in a particularly vulnerable position. “There could be retribution or retaliation for exposing a building’s illegal conduct,” Mr. Harman said.

Instead, you might want to reach out to neighbors to see if they, too, would send letters demanding that the building comply with the law.

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Wandering Vines

About 20 years ago, our co-op gave a neighboring co-op permission to attach cables to the side of our building to support ivy that is growing up our building but has roots on the neighboring property. For years, our neighbors maintained the vines. But in recent years, they stopped. Now the Boston ivy has grown into a heavy and unwieldy mess bound to cables wrapped around our chimney. We are increasingly concerned about structural damage to our building. We would like to cut down the plants, but our neighbors want to keep them — and have not responded to our repeated requests that they maintain them. Do we have the authority to remove them?

Hell’s Kitchen, Manhattan

Boston ivy scales walls and can potentially damage a building, particularly one with bricks that are weak or in disrepair. It is an “aggressive climber with aerial roots that cling to a building,” said Todd Haiman, a New York City landscape designer, who recommends “that vines be pruned annually to keep them attractive, healthy and in bounds.” Because regular pruning has not happened, you have good reason for concern. If the agreement was made in writing, your co-op should consult with its corporate counsel about how to proceed. But if the agreement was verbal, which is likely, then it can be revoked, according to Peter I. Livingston, a Manhattan real estate lawyer.

Your co-op board should request that the neighboring building remove the cable and the vines from the building because they are damaging your property. If the neighbor does not do the work in a reasonable period of time, then your building should remove the foliage on your property. Your co-op would likely pay for the work.

Be prepared for potential resistance. The residents next door might have a strong attachment to the ivy and try to save the plants once they realize their fate. “Ivy is a bit of a lightning rod,” Mr. Haiman said. “It’s culturally significant and aesthetically pleasing to some, an invasive weed and maintenance issue to others.”

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Unresponsive Management

What is one to do when the management company is completely unresponsive? I find it quite irritating, especially since we (co-op shareholders) pay a monthly maintenance fee, some of which presumably goes to the company.

Upper West Side, Manhattan

The managing agent is hired by the co-op, and as a shareholder, you pay for that service. In theory, you should be treated as a paying client. “If the managing agent is not responding to your requests, then the managing agent is not properly performing its duties,” said Lawrence Chaifetz, a Manhattan real estate lawyer.

If the service is not up to par, make a list of recent grievances, with as much detail as possible, and send it to the president of the co-op board. Ideally, see if other residents might do the same. Request that the board compel the managing agent to improve its service. If the problems continue, the board should find a new managing agent when the contract expires.

If the board ignores your complaints, you could theoretically sue the co-op for failing to provide services, but that would be a difficult and expensive road to take, according to Mr. Chaifetz. Instead, you might want to attempt to replace unresponsive board members at the next board election so you can effectively address the management issues.

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