Condominiums – The Misunderstood Cross-Breed

Such a simple concept when you truly understand its simplicity, but so very confusing when you only think you understand.

I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve heard the goofiest things from condominium owners – some of them who’ve been living in condos for many years. I’ve often said “we should write this down – someday we can publish a book!” – should’ve listened to myself, but I digress.

If you are a first time condo owner coming from a rental situation, you may fall into the group that will utter something similar to any of the following:

* my monthly condo fees increased, so I’m going to get my money’s worth and take longer, hotter showers!

* darling little Donny dropped his toy tractor in the toilet and now its plugged – send someone to fix it right away.

* they should do something about “the grass cutting”, “junk on people’s balconies”, “parking violations”….

If you’re a first time condo owner coming from a single family home, you may be heard to exclaim:

* I paid for it, it’s my home and I’ll plant what I want – I own this place

* if I want to install a screen door, I don’t need anyone’s permission

* they’re my tenants and I don’t want to evict them.

Most of this, at a glance, seems perfectly reasonable. Let’s look more closely.

* The former tenant who wants to “get her money’s worth” of hot water. Condominiums are not owned or run by someone or some company who is making money from monthly condo fees – these communities are owned by the owners of the units and the annual budget (and therefore your monthly fees) is based on actual and projected costs for the coming year – there is NO profit built into the fees – NO one is making any money. Your fees cover your share of the actual cost to provide services like water, snow removal and insurance on the common property. So when you leave your lights on in a building where electricity is included in your fees, or allow your children to break the branches on the trees thinking that someone else is footing the bill, you are, in fact, costing yourself money!

* Your darling Donny, your toilet. Plumbing, electrical and other services inside your unit that only serve YOUR unit, are your responsibility. Only common lines, pipes and other equipment or materials in or around your unit that ALSO serve other units, is considered common property. Common property that provides service to many units is repaired at the expense of ALL owners. The exception to this would be if Donny’s tractor damaged a common line serving other owners – in this case, you would be liable to pay for repairs to the common property damaged by “you”.

* They are your neighbours, who, just like you, have jobs, families and other interests, but THEY volunteer their time to administer the affairs of everyone’s homes. The common consensus among those who give of their time and efforts is “if you don’t contribute, you don’t have the right to complain”. Granted, not everyone can serve on the Board of Directors or committees at once, but certainly, its an extremely enlightening and rewarding experience that every owner should, at one time, commit to – after all, your unit is likely one of the largest purchases you will ever make – don’t you want to have your say in how it is run?

Now, to the other side of the ownership perspective:

* You paid for it, its your home, but remember, its also a part of a community where every single owner has the same claim to fame. Imagine if every owner planted whatever they wanted, but remember that not every owner has the same good taste, common sense and gardening talents and abilities as you. Can you picture what the property as a whole could look like without some specific controls on such “improvements”? (not to mention the increased cost of grounds maintenance!) Your Board of Directors is ultimately responsible for ensuring that property values are maintained for all owners and this cannot be accomplished without some reasonable controls. (if you question “reasonable”, see also the point immediately preceding).

* Permission – approval for additions which affect the exterior appearance of your home is necessary; not only for the same reason mentioned above, but also because, depending on the way your bylaws are structured, some exterior items such as windows and doors may be the responsibility of the Corporation to maintain. Such controls restrict these types of additions in order to protect all the other owners from having to pay to maintain your improvement. This applies to some interior renovations as well – you cannot install a larger electrical panel and run a manufacturing business from your unit while your neighbours share the cost of electricity in their monthly fees. You cannot knock down an interior wall without approval because interior walls may be load-bearing or contain pipes or lines that service other units – such renovations put other owners at risk. Many other such restrictions are in place for the same reasons.

* Your tenants are your responsibility; however, if you allow your tenants to interfere with the right of peaceable possession of other owners, the Board of Directors not only has the authority as regulated by provincial legislation, but the obligation to step in and if necessary, evict your tenant. In fact, the Condominium Property Act of Alberta supersedes the Landlord and Tenant Act in respect of the notice period required for evictions. There are several other key issues which affect tenants in condominiums – if you plan to rent your unit, be certain that you read and understand the rights of the Corporation in dealing with both you and your tenant.

The point in illuminating these various examples, is to illustrate the different mindsets involved when certain perspectives are taken. The “bottom line” in any presumption regarding condominium ownership is that every owner should make it a priority to understand how this form of ownership is different from renting and from single-family ownership.

There are many wonderful things about condominium living – worry-free grounds maintenance, security, community-living opportunities… the list goes on, but there are also certain sacrifices that you should be prepared for, in consideration of the greater good (which by the way, impacts you AND your property value, at the end of the day).