What Does It Mean To Own A Condo?

When my wife and I got married, we debated whether or not to own a condo. We went back an forth discussing the pros and cons until we ultimately decided against it.

What does it mean to own a condo? Condo buyers own the condominium unit itself. Common elements are collectively owned by all the complex’s residents. However, not all common elements are the same. There are limited, general, and exclusive common elements.

Condos tend to be remarkably popular in areas with high property values, like popular vacation destinations or big cities. Condos can be a great alternative for potential homeowners who cannot afford to own a home but still, want to own real estate.

What Is a Condo?

Condominium units are individually sold in a communal living complex. They typically look like apartment buildings. The main difference between apartments and condo’s is that you get to own your private condo unit.

Common areas such as lounges, tennis courts, or pools are owned collectively by all the complex’s residents. Condo’s tend to come with conveniences that are expensive when paid for individually such as the maintenance of a pool.

Buying a condo is typically like joining a business arrangement with the other condo owners in a building. This is why condos tend to have their own homeowners associations which create rules to maintain the upkeep of both the building and neighbor relationships.

Why You Need to Know What You Will Own as a Condo Owner

Why bother with the details about what a condominium unit actually includes? As an owner of a condominium unit, you might only be concerned with having a cool place to live.

Besides knowing what you are spending your money on, there are a number of reasons why you should know what comes with the ownership of a condominium unit.

Your Ownership Determines Your Right to Use Common Elements

Anything that you do not own is usually not going to be yours to use or change without specific rights being granted to you under the association documents. For this reason, it is critical to know what is and is not included as a part of the unit.

For example, if you are not the owner of a wall, then you do not have the right to change the wall without the approval of the association. 

Your Maintenance Responsibilities Determines Your Ownership Interest

Your maintenance responsibilities vary depending on what you actually own. A condo owner is typically responsible for the maintenance of everything that is a part of his or her unit.

However, the home owner’s association for the condominium is typically responsible for the maintenance of anything that is a general common element such as pool maintenance.

When it comes to exclusive and limited common elements, things can get confusing. In most cases, the condominium association must repair and replace limited common elements. However, the owner or owners with rights to use the limited common elements may have the responsibility to maintain the limited common elements.

Your Insurance Coverage is Dependent on Your Ownership

Understanding what you own and are responsible for can help you know where to go to if something is damaged. If, for example, a tornado knocks off half your deck railings, then you will need to know who owns the railings to determine whether it is an issue that your own homeowner’s insurance should cover. Sometimes the homeowner association’s insurance will cover damage for deck railings.

In many cases, the unit owner’s insurance will not cover certain things. Plus, the condo association may not have sufficient insurance which will force you to pay for damages.

Difference Between Limited, General, & Exclusive Common Elements

Things that are not part of a condo unit is usually deemed a common element. Not all common elements are the same.

If you want to know the degree to which you have a right to use them, you will need to look a little deeper. You might see what is referred to as “limited common elements,” “ general common elements,” and “exclusive common elements.”

  • Limited common elements are those that not all owners have the right to use. For example, use of a common courtyard might be limited to all the owners of a particular floor of the condominium building.
  • General common elements are those that every owner in the condominium building can use. Stairways, hallways, lobbies, pools, and other amenities are often general common elements. The land the condominium sits on is always a general common element.
  • Exclusive common elements are different than limited common elements because only the owners of a condominium unit have the exclusive right to use exclusive common elements. Some condominium buildings do not separately define these as exclusive common elements, but as limited common elements that have “exclusive use rights.” For example, a parking space assigned to a specific unit, or a balcony accessed by only one unit could be exclusive common elements.

Do you have to pay HOA (home owner’s association) dues if you own a condo?

You do not have to pay HOA fees if you own a condominium unit. You only have to pay HOA fees if you live in an area that is part of a homeowner’s association.

Are residential condos considered commercial real estate? 

Typically, residential condos are utilized for living purposes instead of commercial works. However, if one considers doing commercial works in a condominium unit, then it can be easily considered a commercial real estate. However, if the condominium is owned by you, then you may use it for commercial purposes. But, if you have rented a residential condo, then you must have the permission of the owner of the condo before using the condo for commercial purposes.



Geoff Southworth is the creator of RealEstateInfoGuide.com, the site that helps new homeowners, investors, and homeowners-to-be successfully navigate the complex world of property ownership. Geoff is a real estate investor of 8 years has had experience as a manager of a debt-free, private real estate equity fund, as well as a Registered Nurse in Emergency Trauma and Cardiac Cath Lab Care. As a result, he has developed a unique “people first, business second” approach to real estate.

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