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What Do I Own As a Condo Unit Owner?

The term “condominium” in real estate law refers to a large complex that is divided into individual units and sold. When a purchaser buys one of the units in the complex, they enter into a dual ownership situation. The first type of ownership is the acquisition of individual and absolute title to the particular space their unit occupies. That means that they own the area formed by the walls, floor and ceiling of their unit and everything inside including interior partitions, cabinets, appliances and fixtures. They technically do not own the land. However, their ownership of their individual unit is as complete and absolute as a homeowner’s ownership of the house that they buy. They have title to their unit just as they would if they had purchased a single-family home. Additionally, they have the same legal status as a single-family homeowner.

A title search is performed when someone purchases a condominium, just as it is when someone buys a house. This search will disclose any problems with the title of the unit along with any liens against the condominium building or the complex itself. Once the title search is complete and there are no problems, the purchaser receives a deed to their unit.

Because ownership is in the individual unit, the purchaser needs to be sure that the location of his/her unit is precisely and accurately described in terms of space. The physical boundaries of the unit must be pinpointed with the same accuracy that locates a piece of land and distinguishes it from all other pieces of land.

This description is arrived at by dividing, measuring and locating the unit in three-dimensional terms so that it cannot be confused with any other unit space. The legal ramifications of this description are significant. The description safeguards the purchaser from involvement in the interests or obligations of owners of other units in the condominium. The description is also fundamental in obtaining a mortgage and disposing of the unit through sale or by bequeath.

The second type of ownership is an undivided interest in all of the common parts of the property, such as the main walls, roofs, halls, lobbies, stairways as well as the land. This ownership is held collectively with all other unit owners in the condominium. The condominium management controls these common properties. Management is usually made up of a board of unit owners who manage the day- today operations of the complex like garbage collection, landscaping and snow removal.

Because of the shared ownership of common areas, the unit owner has to abide by the legal documents, which govern the association. These documents are known as the Declaration and the By-laws. The Declaration delineates the percentage interest that each unit has in the association. That percentage determines the unit owner’s voting rights and payment obligations.

The By-laws spell out board member qualifications, how the board administers policies and how it oversees the maintenance and administration of the association. The by-laws will also include the rules about meetings, voting, proxies, budget, assessments, insurance coverage, and restrictions on the use of the units and the common areas. 

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