Purchasing a Condominium Unit: Caveat Emptor (Let the Buyer Beware)

Dec 06, 2012 By Merlin Law Group Condominium Associations

According to the Community Associations Institute’s website,1 about 70 million people live in approximately 315,000 community associations throughout the United States. Thus, if you’re about to purchase a new home, the odds are good that you’ll be buying into an association as homeowners associations are not just for condominiums, but also for townhomes and even single family dwellings too.

Association living, however, is not for everyone. While many associations offer enticing amenities for members such as community rooms, clubhouses, swimming pools and tennis courts, and take care of regular maintenance, repairs and landscaping of the common areas, associations also come with significant fees as well as lists of rules and regulations encompassed within what are typically called the “governing documents.” These governing documents – usually comprised of the Declaration of Covenants, Conditions & Restrictions, Bylaws and Rules & Regulations – typically discuss and provide for assessments (regular and special), repair and maintenance obligations, architectural guidelines, pet restrictions, parking and other use restrictions. It is always best to review the association’s governing documents before purchasing a unit or home in an association to see whether you will be able to live with and abide by the association’s rules and fees. If you are the type of person to chafe under a stringent set of rules, association living is not for you. Failure to follow the association’s rules can and usually will lead to additional fees and fines.

The following is a non-exhaustive list of potential rules that you might need to follow upon purchasing a home in an association. Make sure you can live with these restrictions before buying:

  • Landscaping: there are frequently rules pertaining to grass, bush and tree maintenance, as well as lawn sculptures and potted plants.
  • Pet Restrictions: if the association allows pets at all, there may be restrictions on the types of allowable pets, the size of the pet, limits on the numbers of pets and where pets are allowed in the common areas.
  • Architectural Guidelines: many associations not only have architectural guidelines but also architectural committees to vet potential changes and/or additions before they are allowed. Not only do you have to comply with local building ordinances, you also have to ensure that your plans are approved by the association. Failure to obtain association approval prior to installation of changes, additions can result in the forced removal of the addition at your expense. The architectural committee can also enforce rules pertaining to paint colors, building materials, building height, fences and other aesthetic choices to maintain a “uniform” appearance throughout the community.
  • Parking: associations have been known to have rules regarding reserved spots, street parking, RV parking, overnight parking, guest parking, and rules regarding the size and type of vehicle that can park.
  • Noise: many associations have noise restrictions, so no wood floors on second floor units and no late-night parties.
  • Maintenance and Repair: all governing documents discuss the differences between the individually owned components of the association and the common areas for which the association assumes the duties of maintenance and repair. Typically, the common areas in a condo association include the roofs, walls, windows, plumbing and electrical systems.

Remember, living in an association is living in a communal environment. By purchasing in an association, you lose a little individuality and privacy, but you gain amenities and services that may otherwise by unaffordable. You have to decide whether that is a trade-off you can live with before purchasing.

1 CAI is an international organization providing information, education and resources to all community association stakeholders, including community association managers and homeowners.


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