Why is it important to know what a condo is particularly if you are considering the purchase of one? New home buyers that have never owned a condo sometimes misunderstand their responsibilities and those of the HOA (i.e. Homeowner’sAssociation). Sometimes they think it is the same as moving into an apartment where they only have to pay their rent each month and the apartment building owner is responsible for everything else (sometimes even the utilities).
When you buy a condo, you are buying into a small community with CC&R (i.e. Covenants, Conditions and Restrictions). You are becoming an owner of not only your individual unit but also a partial owner of the “common grounds” (i.e. pool, lawns, walk ways, buildings, etc.) You can live several buildings away from the pool, but if an accident occurs at the pool, you are legally responsible for the accident and can be sued, so you want to have adequate HOA insurance. (We will get to insurance at a later time.)
Your life in this “small community” is ruled not only by federal, state, county, and local jurisdictions, but now it is also ruled by the CC&R’s. You should have signed an acknowledgement at the time of closing of your purchase that you have received, read and accepted the CC&R’s.
Your HOA Board of Directors is tasked with enforcing the CC&R’s. In the article “CC&R’s– Definition of Covenants, Conditions and Restrictions,” Elizabeth Weintraub(Home Buying/Selling Expert) states:
“Covenants, conditions and restrictions are limitations and rules placed on a group of homes by a builder, developer, neighborhood association and / or homeowner association. All condos and townhomes have CC&Rs; however, so do most planned unit developments and established neighborhoods.”
Some rules in CC&R’s have been challenged in court and nullified such as restrictions based on race, but those findings do not eliminate the rest of the rules. So new homeowners in condo complexes should know what their restrictions and responsibilities are.
So, what is a condo?
Dictionary.com explains it this way:
1) An apartment house, office, building, or other multiple unit complex, the units of which are individually owned, each owner receiving a recordable deed to the individual unit purchased, including the right to sell, mortgage, etc., that unit and sharing in joint ownership of any common grounds, passageways, etc.
2) A unit in such a building
Wikipedia.com further describes the word as:
A condominium, or condo, is the form of housing tenure and other real property where a specified part of a piece of real estate (usually of an apartment house) is individually owned. Use of land access to common facilities in the piece such as hallways, heating system, elevators, and exterior areas are executed under legal rights associated with the individual ownership. These rights are controlled by the association of owners that jointly represent ownership of the whole piece.
To wrap up this section, there are a lot of reasons that people move into condos.
Sometimes it is cost.
Let’s face it, generally it is cheaper to buy in a condo or townhome (at least in San Diego area) than to buy a single family residence. The overall cost of living in the condo can also be less expensive since your association fee goes to pay for the maintenance of the common area. You don’t have to hire a pool guy for a pool that you swim in once a month, or the maintenance crew for the lawns and grounds that you don't have time to use because you are working 10 hours a day.
But there is also the issue of convenience.
Condos tend to be in more densely populated areas; therefore, there tend to be more amenities within easy access by car, bicycle or foot. Some have joint facilities such as exercise rooms with expensive equipment. Again, you didn’t have to buy that equipment for a once a week workout.
If you own a condo, you have an obligation to yourself to be involved in the affairs of the HOA. Decisions made by the board of the HOA will determine your enjoyment of the complex as well as those of your guests. Decisions to defer maintenance will also affect you if you have termites or roofing issues, thus lowering your property values and making it harder to sell your property. And when your “reserves” are too low you actually become more susceptible to law suits because of deferred maintenance and inadequate insurance.
(Disclaimer: this article in not intended as legal advice and is for informational purposes only. If you have a legal question regarding a specific condominium complex consult an attorney.)