Condominiums seem to have an air of ambiguity about them. We think we know what they are; apartments in high-rise buildings, right?
But the truth is, the word condominium refers to many different things. This article looks specifically at condo living in a high-rise building, and what it is you are buying when you purchase a unit.
According to the Condominium Authority of Ontario, when you purchase an apartment condo you own both the individual unit and a shared or community interest in the common elements of the condo corporation.
Put another way, part of what you buy is fully owned by you, and part of it is shared with others that live in the building.
When you purchase a condo unit inside a building, you own the apartment itself and usually everything inside of it. As the owner of the residence you are responsible for maintaining and caring for the structure of the interior of the unit along with any mechanical systems inside.
For example, some older apartment condos have heat exchangers inside the individual units. Should it become necessary to repair or replace this system due to aging or faulty operation, the financial responsibility falls to the unit owner to do so. When the time comes to sell that apartment condo to someone else, the baton of responsibility is then passed to the new owner.
Similarly, if you discover leaky pipes inside your unit or discover a water leak, you are responsible for those repairs.
The common area of the building, on the other hand, normally begins directly outside your apartment unit beginning with the outside wall of your unit found in the hallway. Regardless of where you go inside the apartment building or on the grounds outside, if you are not physically inside your apartment unit then you are likely in a common area.
Going back to the definition of an apartment condo, when you purchase a condo unit you are buying the dwelling itself along with a share of the interest in the common areas. What does this mean?
Let’s say the elevator stops working, or the carpet in the hallway needs repairing. All owners in that building have a shared financial responsibility for the repair and maintenance of these areas. This is the shared component of condo ownership.
Each condo owner is responsible for a portion of the cost of these repairs. This is often calculated as a percentage based on square footage. Thus, larger units have slightly higher fees, smaller units will usually pay a bit less.
These condo fees, also known as maintenance fees or common expense fees, include a contribution to the condo corporation’s reserve fund which is designed to cover major renovations or repairs of the building.
The condo fee also covers the cost to maintain the common areas, remuneration of the property management company, insurance premiums for the condo corporation, and other services like garbage collection, landscaping, or security.
So, as the owner of an apartment condo, how do you know where your unit ends and the common areas begin? While there are some commonalities among condo buildings, the safest answer to this is to review the status certificate of your condo that can be requested through your property manager or through the condo corporation directly.
That said, if you are considering purchasing an apartment condo or if you already live in one, it is safe to assume that you are responsible for caring for whatever is physically inside your unit.
What about a balcony? This is one final grey area to cover and may something called an exclusive use common element.
In some apartment condo buildings, the balcony may or may not be part of what is owned when you purchase a condo. Of course, you wouldn’t expect your neighbour to just stroll onto your balcony and use it the same way they might freely visit the rooftop patio or swim in the pool. For this reason, the balcony may have a different classification.
Since every condo corporation is different in terms of how these areas are classified, it is best to verify which applies to your specific situation.
If you do not in fact own your balcony and your condo corporation provides this to unit owners on an exclusive-use basis, there will be implications in terms of how the balcony can be used, what changes can be made, and how approvals for modification should be obtained.
You can verify details on your status certificate about the specifics of your particular unit, or ask your REALTOR® to clarify the process for securing one on a home you are looking to buy.***
Reference: Condominium Authority of Ontario (CAO)(2021). Condominium Ownership: What You Need to Know.
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