Preserving Your Asset

An important consideration of nearly all purchasers of residential condominium units is the fact that a condominium provides the advantages of home ownership without the time-consuming and laborious tasks that are an expected part of maintaining a house and property.  After all, exterior maintenance is taken care of by the association.  But that does not mean that maintenance and repair issues are something with which condominium owners need not be concerned.  On the contrary, there are several reasons why building issues should be matters of extreme urgency in a condominium setting.

It is important to first understand the condominium form of ownership.  The purchaser buys a unit that is owned in the same way that an individual home would be owned, but also receives an ownership interest, in common with all other owners, in the common elements of the complex.  Each owner’s property, therefore, includes all of the common elements in addition to their unit.  This means that maintenance and repair issues in the common elements effect the value, maintainability, and useful life of every owner’s property.

Moreover, all owners, by virtue of their membership in the council of unit owners, are responsible for the maintenance, repair, and replacement of all of the common element components.  And any unit owner, because of their ownership rights in the common elements, may compel the association to properly maintain the common elements and correct any defects.

This ownership and related responsibility applies no matter how many buildings might be involved, or how far removed any common element component might be from any given unit.  Indeed, the fact that large buildings or multiple buildings may be involved in a condominium project  means that common element maintenance and repair issues are often much more problematic and considerably more expensive than those that would ever be confronted by an individual homeowner.

Additionally, Maryland law requires that condominium owners, at the time of resale, disclose to prospective purchasers any knowledge of conditions in any part of the condominium that constitute violations of applicable building codes.  Accordingly, defective conditions in the common elements have a direct bearing on the marketability of an individual unit.

As a result of these factors, building problems in condominiums are a matter that can neither be taken lightly nor ignored, because they effect every owner’s interests and can potentially have enormous financial consequences.

To properly protect themselves, condominium owners need to understand the construction of their buildings.  This is necessary even in the absence of specific problems, because condominiums are statutorily required to establish annual budgets for maintenance and replacement reserves.  Initial budgets established by the developer are often kept low in order to allow for lower annual fees that are attractive to purchasers.  The unit owners need to develop their own realistic figures for maintenance and reserves, and must become familiar with their buildings in order to understand the proper maintenance required and the anticipated useful life of the various components.

In doing so, condominium owners also need to become aware of any defective conditions not in compliance with codes, contract documents, and industry standards.  Such issues must be corrected if the condominium council is to meet its responsibilities to the owners, and, if inherent in original construction, may be conditions that the developer is responsible for correcting under warranty and common law obligations.  To preserve and pursue any such claims against the developer, the association must know what defects exist, what constitutes a proper method of repair, and the cost of such repair.

In order to gain the information necessary to intelligently maintain the project, as well as identify conditions for which the developer may be responsible, condominiums must engage appropriate consultants.  A transition study of the property should be undertaken at the time the owners assume responsibility for the complex from the developer.  Such studies establish valid figures for annual maintenance and reserves, and identify conditions that are defective or call for further investigation.

Where problems become apparent, whether by virtue of a transition study or unit owner experience, a forensic engineering investigation should be undertaken so that the true nature of the conditions can be properly identified and an appropriate repair specified.  The resulting engineering report also forms the basis for supporting any claim for damages that might be pursued against the developer.

And it is important to be mindful that time is of the essence with respect to preserving claims against the developer.  Warranties are of limited duration, and common law claims do not accrue upon actual knowledge, but, instead, commence when the property owner, in the exercise of reasonable diligence, should have been on notice of the need to investigate.

Condominium ownership offers many benefits, but being absolutely carefree is not one of them.  Only a diligent and informed unit owner can protect themselves from undue expense and unwanted aggravation.

17 Comments


  1. Good day!
    The interior ceiling of my residential/condo is being destroyed due to roof damage. Mgmt.
    has been informed and has refused to come out to inspect. What recourse do I follow now? I am the individual unit owner.


    1. Generally, roofs are common elements, the maintenance of which is the responsibility of the Condominium Council. Damages caused to a unit by common element defects are also the responsibility of the Council. The roof problem needs to be evaluated by a competent roofing consultant, and properly repaired in accordance with their recommendations. Then your interior damage can be addressed. You should put the board of directors and the managing agent on written notice of these problems, including the nature of the interior damage, and demand correction. You should also consider delivering and reading the letter at the next Board meeting so that it becomes part of the minutes. If they do not respond, you may need to retain an attorney.

      [INFORMATION OFFERED HEREIN IS NOT LEGAL ADVICE, AND NO ATTORNEY-CLIENT RELATIONSHIP EXISTS OR IS INTENDED BY VIRTUE OF THE EXCHANGE OF THIS INFORMATION]

      In sounds as though the re-grading and gutter replacement have not fully addressed the excessive water to which your patio is exposed. The association needs to retain consultants to develop a long term solution. This may include the services of a civil engineer to prepare a repair specification to be executed by a capable contractor. If the association will not do this, you may need to retain counsel to convince them that waiting until the next flood is not in anyone’s best interest.

      INFORMATION OFFERED HEREIN IS NOT LEGAL ADVICE, AND NO ATTORNEY-CLIENT RELATIONSHIP EXISTS OR IS INTENDED BY VIRTUE OF THE EXCHANGE OF INFORMATION HEREIN]

      rdburke@ober.com
      rburke
      1


  2. The owner below my unit keeps asserting that he gets water into his unit everytime we have a storm because he says my windows are leaking.
    My contention is that even though I have original windows and not replacement windows, my windows aren’t leaking and as I also have storm shutters the water is not coming from unit.
    It’s my contention that the roof is leaking 6 floors above us and the water is finding its way into his unit. We’ve had many roof problems in the past.
    He says he wants to sue me for water damage, I’m in any way responsible? The condo board hasn’t required the owners to replace their windows yet.

    Thank you
    Steve


    1. Steve,
      A specific answer to your questions would require a review of the condominium’s governing documents to determine what components are common elements and how the maintenance responsibilities are allocated. In general, however, the council is responsible for any damage arising from a defect in a common element. It is also responsible for maintaining insurance that covers damage to both the common elements and the units. So the council is likely to be responsible for your neighbor’s water damage. Even if damage to a unit originates from another unit, the owner of the unit that is the source of the damage is only responsible for the council’s insurance deductable, up to a maximum of $5,000. That being said, you could still be embroiled in litigation. Even if you are not liable, there are litigation expenses arising from defending the claim. What really needs to happen at your condo is for the council to retain a capable engineer or archtitect to identify the source of the water leakage, specifiy an appropriate repair, and get the problem fixed. Water intrusiion needs to be addressed promptly and properly. Otherwise, you are all at risk for damage to building components and lost property value, as well as potential litigation.


  3. We have common areas and then there is the unit and something our documents call limited common elements. Who is responsible for maintenance of the limited common elements (such as exterior doors, garage doors, etc)and under what circumstances can a unit owner make their own repairs or upgrades to exterior elements of the condo?


    1. Limited common elements are usually portions of the condominium that serve only one unit, but are an intregal part of the building or complex, such as balconies or garages. The responsibility for maintenance of limited common elements will be specified in your declaration or bylaws. The same is true of provisions relating to a right to upgrade or alter the appearance of any component. Each community is different, and you will need to review your governing documents, or have them reviewed by an attorney, to find the answers in your particular case.

      Generally as to limited common elements, most often, the governing documents will provide that normal and routine maintenance is the responsiblity of the unit owner, while painting and repairs are the responsibility of the council. As to repairs or upgrades, usually a unit owner cannot make alterations to exterior building components without the approval of the council. If the exterior components are common elements, individual unit owners are generally prohibited from making alterations, because those components are owned in common with all owners.


  4. Hello. My condo association wants to charge each owner a one time assessment of $433 due to all the added snow removal costs this past winter. There are about 200 condo owners here and we each pay roughly $180 per month in condo fees. By Maryland law, do we have to pay the $433 assessment? How do condo owners go about getting a new condo management association in here? Is there a state watchdog agency that investigates condo associations? Thanks for any help.


    1. I suggest you first read your condominium’s governing documents. Whether the assessment is valid depends on whether it was adopted in compliance with the procedures set forth in the governing documents. If it was, all unit owners are required to pay accordingly or be subject to late chargers, attorney’s fees, and possibly a the imposition of a lien against the unit.

      Under the Condominium Act, any expenditure that would result in an increase in the condominium’s budget of more than 15% requires an amendment to the budget approved by the owners at a special meeting. There is an exception, however, if the expenditure is because of conditions that “could reasonably result in a threat to the health and safety of the unit owners or a significant risk of damage to the condominium.”

      If you are dissatisfied with the performance of the Board of Directors, they are subject to election or recall in accordance with the provisions of your governing documents.

      Finally, there is no state agency that regulates or investigates condominiums.


  5. The owner below my unit keeps asserting that he gets water into his unit everytime we have a storm because he says my windows are leaking.
    My contention is that even though I have original windows and not replacement windows, my windows aren’t leaking and as I also have storm shutters the water is not coming from unit.
    It’s my contention that the roof is leaking 6 floors above us and the water is finding its way into his unit. We’ve had many roof problems in the past.
    He says he wants to sue me for water damage, I’m in any way responsible? The condo board hasn’t required the owners to replace their windows yet.


  6. We have common areas and then there is the unit and something our documents call limited common elements. Who is responsible for maintenance of the limited common elements (such as exterior doors, garage doors, etc)and under what circumstances can a unit owner make their own repairs or upgrades to exterior elements of the condo?


    1. The maintenance responsibilities for limited common elements should be provided in the govening documents, most particularly the declartion. Generally, unit owners are responsible for normal maintenance, for example, cleaning or painting, while the condo is responsible for repairs and replacemnts. You should review your condo’s declaration for any specific requirements.


  7. Great article. lots of information here.


  8. I live in a single family home that is in a condominium community governed by the Md Condo Act. If my roof leaks who has the resposibility to fix the problem? Me or the Condo Board? Who is responsible for the gutters?

    Henry


    1. Henry,

      The answers to your questions depend on how your community defines common elements. This can only be determined by reviewing the governing documents. In gneral, the council of unit owners is responsible for maintenance and repair of common elements.


  9. Doest condo fee cover roof replacement. Realator says it doesnt. The olny reason for me to consider condo is no exterior maintenance. Thanks for help


    1. The common elements are to be maintained by the Council of Unit Owners through fees and assessments. The units are maintained by the individual unit owners. There may also be limited common elements that serve only one unit, as to which the maintenance may be shared. The Condominium Declaration will identify those components that are part of the common elements, the limited common elements and the units.

Comments are closed.