COAs & Condo Maintenance: What Are You Responsible For?
For most people, buying a condo means taking a dip in the community swimming pool whenever they please and never having to worry about its maintenance. For others, it's living yard-work free because a COA community handles these tasks. However, whatever it might mean to any individual owner, they must understand the maintenance duties of a condo owner beforehand to avoid frustrations when a COA board member shows up to their doorstep demanding they shoulder plumbing repairs. So, what does a condo owner have to take care of? Read on to find out the maintenance responsibilities of a condo owner.
What Belongs to the COA & What Belongs to Me?
Most condo neighborhoods are governed by a homeowners association. The community developer usually creates the COA and hands its administration down to a board run by elected presidents. These residents oversee and manage the entire community by enforcing rules regarding shared spaces, landscaping, and generally everything else that may affect the residents' lifestyles. COAs also mediate resident disputes, introduce developments and market the community. They create stability in condo neighborhoods by setting rules and bylaws that govern issues like maintenance, conversely upholding and facilitating better property values. These rules are often written out in Covenants, Conditions, and Restrictions documents (CC&Rs) and are legally binding and enforceable.
So what does a COA own in a condo community, and what belongs to the owners? While every community is different, condo neighborhoods typically comprise owned, shared, and limited common elements.
The COA owns and manages the usage of common elements such as roads, sidewalks, and swimming pools, while residents boast exclusive physical ownership of private units. On the other hand, limited common features are often only accessible to two or a group of residents and their guests but may ultimately be owned by the entire condo community.
Maintenance for Common Elements
Also known as shared spaces, common elements in a condo community are the spaces, features, and services that benefit all dues-paying condo owners in the neighborhood. They vary from one community to another but typically include HVAC systems, walkways, streetlights, elevators, and lighting in shared hallways and roads. In some upscale condo communities, luxurious features such as swimming pools, sports courts, fitness centers, clubhouses, beach areas, parks, and pavilions are also considered common elements.
Maintenance and repairs of these elements are almost always the responsibility of the condo association. That means residents can scratch tasks like lawn care off their to-do lists since the COA has it handled. The COA typically oversees tasks like trash removal, snow shoveling in winter, painting or repairing condo exteriors, and general landscaping. COAs also cover emergency repairs that might come up.
If a common-use elevator breaks down or a broken streetlight needs repairing, the COA oversees and funds its repairs. Also, if an improvement is proposed and approved, the COA makes it happen using monthly or yearly COA resident fees. Note, however, that even though the COA owns and is responsible for maintaining common elements, condo owners can usually vote to decide which repairs or upgrades are completed first.
Maintenance for Limited Common Elements
Limited common elements are any features of a condo community that are exclusively used by one or a group of residents. Like common elements, these features may vary but often include a balcony or patio only accessible via a specific floor, assigned parking spaces, an entryway or path that serves individual units, a private garage, and sometimes even ductwork conduits or wiring to particular units. These elements are listed in the condo declaration, and ownership can neither be revoked nor reassigned. One can only make changes through declaration amendments, but this often takes time.
While usage of limited common elements is restricted to one or a group of residents, maintenance responsibility of limited common elements typically falls on the condo association. But the costs are often covered by the exclusive users unless specified otherwise in the declaration. The COA can also control lighting, paint color, and upgrades to a limited common area.
If the terms are unclear, the COA automatically shoulders the responsibility, but the users might be expected to handle it in some communities. In that light, an aspiring condo owner interested in exclusive elements must review the document to determine who's responsible for what before committing to any contract. Roofs, windows, and similar liminal items may or may not fall under the condo owner's responsibility depending on the community, so it's important to ask for clarification.
Maintenance in Private Units
Also known as owned elements, private units are individually owned condos in a community. The space includes everything within the unit, including the floors, the middle walls, the ceilings, and the interior surfaces of the exterior walls.
The private units are considered an area of separate interest, meaning maintenance automatically falls on the occupant. That essentially means that if the condo came with appliances like a dishwasher or refrigerator, these automatically become the owner's property, and any necessary repairs, maintenance, or replacement is their responsibility.
Private unit maintenance tasks usually vary and may include hardware replacement, painting, flooring repairs, and plumbing issues such as a leaking toilet. However, plumbing is still a gray area, as problems such as a backed-up septic tank used by multiple units may sometimes fall on the COA, and pipes within the walls may not fall under the condo owner's ownership. Owners should also establish whether the plumbing and electrical wires in their walls and floors fall under their ownership or the COA if they plan to renovate to maximize their condo's space, as they may have to work around the current setup if the lines serve multiple units.
What Happens When Damage Affects Both Private and Common Elements?
In condo ownership, it's usually fairly clear-cut who is responsible for what when it comes to repairs. However, what happens when something causes damage to both private and common elements? For example, if a massive storm rips shingles off a roof, allowing rainwater to leak into the home and damage the drywall, carpet, and personal possessions, who's responsible for the repairs? While there was damage to private property, it wouldn't have happened if a common element hadn't been damaged.
In a case like this, the condo association's insurance would typically cover the cost of repairing or replacing the common element (the roof), and then each unit owner would be responsible for repairing the damage to their own unit. However, responsibilities can vary between COAs. You should always be familiar with your condo association's CC&Rs so you're fully aware of what each party is responsible for.
Condo Living Is Low-Maintenance
Whether an owner chooses a condo for its modern interior, convenient location, or affordability, understanding their maintenance duties beforehand lets them determine whether condo ownership is the right choice for their wants and needs when deciding whether to buy or rent a condo.