The Wet Over Dry Rule and Ways Around It

The wet-over-dry rule prevents apartment owners from moving wet spaces such as bathrooms and kitchens over dry spaces such as living rooms on floors below. The rule helps prevent water damage as well as mitigate water damage when leaks do occur.

The wet over dry rule is not a law nor a department of buildings code; however, it is a rule that is almost universally seen in condo and co-op alteration agreements.

We’ll discuss the nuances of the wet over dry rule as well as ways to get an exception to the rule in the following article.

Is the wet over dry rule a law?

No, the wet over dry rule is neither a law nor a NYC Department of Buildings code. The wet over dry rule is a very common rule seen in most condo and co-op buildings’ alteration agreements which prohibits the placement of wet spaces (i.e. kitchens, bathrooms) over dry spaces on floors below (i.e. living rooms, dining rooms).

In plain English, this means that home owners renovating their apartments are not allowed by their buildings to change their layout in such as way that areas which require plumbing will be directly overhead dry areas which don’t use plumbing on the floors below.

As you can imagine, your downstairs neighbor may not want your bathroom to be directly overhead their living room in case of water leaks.

The wet over dry rule isn't a law or building department code, but is widely seen in co-op and condo alteration agreements. Nuances, exceptions & more.

With that said, it’s still perfectly legal to build a wet space over a dry space if your building allows it. Even though the majority of buildings in our experience do have a wet over dry rule in place, you should always carefully peruse your building’s alteration agreement to confirm whether there are any exceptions.

For example, some buildings might have an exception that will allow a wet space over a dry space if the dry space is uninhabitable (i.e. closets, hallway space).

How did the wet over dry rule arise?

Architects generally agree that the well known building review architect Elliot Glass originally came up with the wet over dry rule, in addition to many other now common renovation rules such as the “noisy over quiet” rule.

Elliot was at the height of his career in the 1990’s, just as property values were taking off on a multi-decade boom in New York City. He became known for being tougher to pass than NYC’s Department of Buildings, and the rules he once instituted on the Upper East Side are now almost universally seen in alteration agreements.

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Why do boards enforce the wet over dry rule?

Co-op and condo boards require shareholders and owners to follow the wet over dry rule in order to minimize the chances of water damage, and to reduce the cost of water damage to floors below if there is a leak.

This rule is so prevalent that you can almost bet that in any building, all the apartment lines of the same type will have the same footprint (i.e. 3A will have the same layout as 4A and so on).

Boards enforce the wet over dry rule through the building’s alteration agreement which prospective renovators must sign before proceeding with any work on their apartment.

It can be hard to prove which party is liable for water damage, and insurance might not fully cover damages for either the building or individual unit owners.

Less water damage in wet over wet layouts

The reason that apartments of the same line are almost always stacked on top of each other in identical, or near identical, layouts is because it helps the building keep plumbing lines straight and orderly.

More importantly, less water damage is likely to occur if a water leak occurs over a wet area. For example, most bathrooms will be tiled with drainage and will be more water resistant vs a living room with parquet floors.

Furthermore, having a stacked layout across the building makes it easier to identify where leaks are coming from. For example, your neighbor will more easily discern which unit a leak is coming from if all the layouts are stacked vs varied.

Can I get approved for an exception before buying?

No. You should not go into contract to purchase a property assuming that the condo or co-op board will pre-approve your renovation plans, let alone an exception to the wet-over-dry rule.

Remember that co-op and condo boards are made up of volunteers who are spending their time for the benefit of the current owners, not to cater to the whims of prospective buyers.

In fact, it can be extremely dangerous to ask a co-op board for special favors like this, because coop boards have the right of approval over prospective buyers.

This means the coop board can reject a prospective buyer for any reason whatsoever, as long as the reason is not discriminatory.

Since coop boards do not have to reveal the reason for rejection, and never do for liability reasons, they essentially have a carte blanche to reject buyers for any reason at all.

The co-op board interview is as much a test of humility as it is a test of your financial qualifications and ability to follow directions.

If the co-op board deems that you will be a troublesome resident, perhaps because of your presumptuous request for them to approve your renovation plans before they’ve approved your co-op purchase application, then they may simply reject you to save themselves less hassle in the future.

As crazy as this might sound, co-op boards do have a tremendous amount of power, as they run and govern the co-op corporation which owns the entire building. Therefore, to presumptuously ask for favors when they haven’t even decided if they want you yet is a surefire way to get rejected.

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Ideas to convince the board to grant an exception

Demonstrate strong waterproofing measures

Though boards are generally hesitant to approve exceptions to the wet-over-dry rule, you might luck out and receive an exception if your renovation plans include robust waterproofing measures as well as flood alarms.

For example, we recommend using Wonderboard or another cement based backer board in all shower and bathtub areas as well as treated paper behind walls to prevent moisture from entering walls and floors behind tiles.

You can further increase your chances of securing an exception by also installing a dishpan to catch water from any potential leaks, just in case.

Check out our guide on how to renovate a bathroom in NYC to learn more about how to properly waterproof a bathroom.

Expand rather than relocate a wet area

A co-op or condo board will be more likely to approve an exception if you ask to expand a wet area vs moving it. For example, it might be more tolerable for your board if you simply asked to expand your bathroom by turning an adjacent closet into a shower stall.

Another example might be asking the board to approve a washer dryer installation in a closet adjacent to the kitchen or bathroom.

Make sure your building is named as an additionally insured party

Co-op and condo boards will be more comfortable approving an exception if you add the building as an additionally insured party on your insurance policy. After all, the last thing that a board wants is to be in the middle of a lawsuit between neighbors due to a water leak.

Make sure to check with your home insurance company as some insurers won’t allow you to name your co-op or condo corporation as an additionally insured party.

Also keep in mind that many condo and co-op buildings won’t be swayed at all by being additionally insured, perhaps because they have priceless artwork in their living room!

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Disclosure: Hauseit® and its affiliates do not provide tax, legal, financial or accounting advice. This material has been prepared for informational purposes only, and is not intended to provide, and should not be relied on for, tax, legal, financial or accounting advice. No representation, guarantee or warranty of any kind is made regarding the completeness or accuracy of information provided.

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