Some people think a “condo” is a vacation rental property. Others view condos as “super apartments” where the entire property is maintained by someone else. Unfortunately, many people have no clear understanding about what purchasing a condominium really means. The reality is that a condominium is a form of property ownership that has been specifically created by state law and defines ownership, maintenance responsibilities and cost allocations. This article provides an overview of this unique form of real estate ownership.
Q: What is a condominium?
A: A “condominium” is a type of real estate that typically includes individual condominium “units,” usually defined as interior “space” bounded by the physical walls, ceilings and floors, as well as “common elements,” such as the buildings themselves, including roofs, driveways and other amenities. Ownership of a condominium includes ownership of a unit as well as “undivided” ownership of the common elements. An “undivided” interest is an interest that is shared with all other condominium unit owners. The amount of individual ownership of the common elements is usually, but not necessarily and not always, based on the relative size or value of the individual unit. The larger or more valuable a unit is in relation to other units, the greater the percentage of ownership of the common elements. A Declaration of Condominium Ownership is a document that each condominium must file with the county in which the condominium is located. The Declaration includes various definitions of a unit, a common element, the proportionate share of ownership of common elements, and other matters. The deed for each unit incorporates the restrictions set forth in the Declaration. Condominiums are not apartments, and condominium owners are not tenants.
Q: How is owning a condominium unit different from owning a house?
A: The biggest differences between condominium ownership and house ownership have to do with what the owner owns, how the property is owned and who determines how the property will be maintained. Since a condominium owner owns a unit plus an undivided interest in the common elements, owners are typically responsible for maintaining their own units as long as they do so within the confines of the Declaration or any recorded restrictions. All decisions about maintenance of the common elements, however, are made by an elected board of directors rather than by an individual owner. The unit owners elect these directors from among the owners and make collective decisions about the maintenance of the property. The costs of maintaining, insuring and administering the common elements are divided among the condominium unit owners according to their percentage of undivided interest in the common elements. The greater the percentage of interest of an individual owner, the larger the share of the common expenses.
Q: What is a condominium association?
A: A condominium association is the entity, typically a corporation, that is formed for the purpose of maintaining and administering the condominium property. This corporation is almost always a not-for-profit corporation that provides for an elected board of directors to make decisions about the common elements. Anyone who purchases a condominium unit automatically becomes a member of the condominium association and is subject to the board of directors’ authority.
Q: What kind of power does the board of directors have?
A: The condominium association’s board of directors sets budgets for the maintenance, repair and administration of the condominium, arranges for the collection of maintenance assessments that are paid by the owners to fund the budget, and enforces the recorded restrictions as well as the rules and regulations of the association.
Q: What should I know before buying a condominium unit?
A: You should obtain and review copies of all financial and reserve reports pertaining to the association from the previous owner of the unit you’re considering, as well as complete and accurate copies of all recorded restrictions, such as the Declaration of Condominium Ownership and Bylaws, and a current copy of the association’s rules and regulations, as implemented by the association’s board of directors. If possible, you should review association meeting minutes for the last few years to identify any unusual maintenance issues or costs, or other activity, such as litigation. If you are buying the unit directly from the condominium developer or builder, you should also ask for a copy of the developer’s "disclosure statement," which must be provided to you. This disclosure statement contains relevant information about the construction of the condominium, your obligations as an owner and other important consumer protection information.
This “Law You Can Use” column was provided by the Ohio State Bar Association. It was prepared by Cleveland attorney Robert E. Kmiecik, a partner in the firm of Kaman & Cusimano.