The regular maintenance of a condo building or complex is imperative to preserving the value of any planned community. But, sometimes it can be confusing to figure out who handles certain repairs.
That’s why it’s important to educate yourself about your maintenance responsibilities as a unit owner before you even buy a property. That way, you can make an informed purchasing decision knowing full well what you’re getting yourself into. Below we have a general guide on HOA and homeowner repairs to help you distinguish between the two.
How an HOA is divided
It’s important to understand that any condo or HOA community is divided into different sections or spaces. This includes individual units, limited common areas (aka exclusive use areas) and general common areas.
Individual units are areas that are separately owned by individual owners. Unless your association’s declaration documents state others, this typically includes the floors, ceilings, and walls of each unit including the airspace and paint on the interior walls.
For a townhouse community, this term extends to the individual piece of land surrounding each individual unit, as well as any other structure/s within it.
As the name implies, common areas are spaces within the community in which unit owners have an equal share. This includes things like the swimming pool, clubhouse, communal gym, landscaping, and even the roof. Everyone within the building is free to use these areas, without exception.
Lastly, you have limited common areas that are only available to a select few members of the community. These spaces are typically located on the boundary or just outside the general property.
A few examples of limited common areas include unique features like air conditioners, door frames, exterior doors, hardware, patios, balconies, and fences, etc. If you want to figure out if your community has exclusive use areas, check your HOAs declaration documents.
Who is responsible for what?
Now that we’ve defined the different areas within an HOA community, let’s look at how maintenance responsibilities are divided between unit owners and the community association.
Depending on where you live, your state regulations should indicate how maintenance responsibilities are divided in your community. If state regulations don’t say anything about the matter, turn to the HOA’s governing documents. This includes the Declaration, Covenants, Conditions, and Restrictions (CC&Rs).
These documents should state who handles the maintenance of common areas, limited common areas and aspects of the individual units.
Generally, individual unit owners are responsible for maintaining their own separate interests. The HOA handles the maintenance of shared common areas. Limited common areas are the shared responsibility of the HOA and unit owners who benefit from them. For example, if two unit owners share the same balcony they’re responsible for ensuring that it’s regularly cleaned and painted.
Regardless of its maintenance duties, the HOA has an obligation to inspect general and limited common areas on a regular basis to ensure that they’re well maintained. Failure to do so may lead to damage due to negligence, the consequences of which we’ll discuss in the following section.
Damage due to negligence
So what happens if you damage part of exclusive use or common areas by mistake? A moment’s loss of focus can lead to untold damage. The onus to fix that damage always falls upon the shoulders of the person who inflicted it. Similarly, when common or exclusive use areas sustain damage due to negligence by the HOA, it’s the association’s responsibility to fix the problem.
For instance, let’s say an individual unit owner experiences a leak due to the HOA’s failure to maintain plumbing. The HOA would be responsible for fixing the leak regardless of the fact that it only affects a single unit. But, the individual unit owner would still be responsible for paying the deductible.
Who pays for the maintenance of common areas?
The unit owners pay for the maintenance of common areas through monthly dues and periodic assessments. This money is collected and saved into the association’s reserves which the association dips into whenever there’s a need for maintenance of common areas.
Unit owners can track spending of their monthly fees by inspecting the HOA’s annual budget to ensure that the funds are allocated properly. Furthermore, the HOA has an obligation to investigate any complaints made in writing about the common areas.
How to address maintenance issues
Even in the most peaceful and beautiful communities, issues arise and things often go wrong. It’s a fact of life. But, the speed and efficiency with which the association deals with such issues determine the success of the said community.
For instance, there might be some confusion around the allocation of maintenance tasks. Maintenance-related disputes can also happen at any time. It’s important to understand the specific maintenance rules of your community because there are a lot of grey areas that can cause misunderstanding. For example, whose obligation is it to replace window shutters and paint unit exteriors in a condo building or townhouse?
In most communities, the HOA is responsible for replacing shutters while unit owners are obligated to maintain them for a set period of time. The nuances of what constitutes “maintenance and repairs” are usually covered in the HOA documents mentioned before.
If HOA documents don’t make provision for maintenance responsibilities in common areas, then it’s wise to address the issue at a general meeting of the HOA board.
Another common issue that often arises between unit owners and the HOA is damage caused by guests. We’ve all experienced or heard of stories where the holiday guests of a particular unit owner damaged common areas like the swimming pool or gym equipment. In most cases, the HOA is responsible for repairing the area without any assistance from the offending party. That’s because the unit owner has already paid for such eventualities through his/her monthly due payment.
But, some HOAs will charge the member an individual reimbursement assessment to cover the cost. Note that this isn’t some form of punishment. Instead, it’s a way for the HOA to recoup the unexpected costs of repairing or replacing the damaged property that was not in its budget.
What if unit owners are unhappy with the way in which the HOA responds to maintenance requests or its ability to maintain common areas in general? For instance, unit owners might feel that the HOA is neglecting pool maintenance. Maybe the landscaping is starting to look unkempt and overgrown.
Your first course of action as a unit owner should be to refer to the governing documents. This is to ensure that you’re clear on the HOAs maintenance obligations. The document should also set out what the proper recourse should be for a dissatisfied unit owner. You might need to take photographic evidence of the overgrown area along with a note of the time and date at which the photo was taken. This makes it easier to understand the nature of the complaint.
Do some digging to find out why maintenance isn’t being done. Perhaps one of the board members is slacking because maintenance responsibilities are usually assigned to individual committee members to handle. Sometimes, you’ll find that the problem is with an incompetent contractor and not the
board. That’s why it’s important to avoid jumping into conclusions and find out the cause of the situation first.
Only once you’ve gathered the relevant information can you raise the issue at the next HOA board meeting. If the board fails to resolve the issue to your satisfaction there isn’t much else you can do about the problem, except mobilizing other unit owners to sign a petition and remove the affected board member. In the worst-case scenario, you may have to sue the HOA for negligence. Or, wait until the next HOA board election where you can motivate the removal of the board member.
HOA Maintenance and Insurance Responsibilities
Property damage can happen due to negligence by the unit owner or the HOA’s failure to conduct regular inspections and repairs. It can also happen because of regular wear and tear, or as a result of natural disasters like floods, fires or hurricanes. The HOA has a responsibility to ensure the latter events to avoid asking unit owners for special assessments. In fact, HOAs are required by law to take out insurance for common areas to protect against unforeseen damage and to cover major repairs such as roof replacement and unexpected plumbing damage.
Also, every HOA must take out an insurance policy that covers any and all alterations made on the general property. It’s important to note that coverage doesn’t usually include the replacement of individual unit components like walls, floors, ceilings, appliances, HVAC equipment, openings, built-in cabinets, drapes, curtains, electrical fixtures, etc. Unit owners must take out insurance cover for these and other aspects of their individual unit.
This is generally supported by common legislation, which states that condominium associations must acquire insurance coverage for the entire building, excluding the contents of the individual units. That way, when an insured event occurs, the association is able to replace or repair the damaged property as per the association’s bylaws or declaration document.
If you’re unsure about your HOA’s insurance situation, consult with the association’s governing documents to find out who’s responsible for repairs on the property that’s been damaged by an uninsured event. Just keep in mind that each community will have a different take on the subject.
Don’t forget to consult with regional and national legislation to find out if there are any discrepancies between the two. Your state’s legislation might provide a “catch-all” provision for certain situations.
Damage caused by an uninsured event
Usually, a condo association is responsible for ensuring all aspects of the condominium building, except unit owners’ personal property. This includes:
- Built-in cabinets
- Water heaters
- Electrical fixtures
- Water filters
Let’s not forget window treatments like blinds, drapes, curtains and hardware components as well.
A unit owner must ensure all of these components within their individual unit, whether the damage is caused by intentional negligence or rule violations. A few examples of this include mold caused by a failure to properly ventilate one’s own unit, or someone leaving their dishwasher on in the wrong setting. Any of these events can happen to anyone and you don’t want to be caught unprepared.
Consult with the association’s governing documents
When in doubt, look at the association’s Declaration of Covenants, Conditions, and Restrictions (CC&Rs), particularly the following provisions:
- Definitions: This part of the document lets you know whether the area is a separate interest or a common area.
- Property division: This section lets you know who owns the different sections of the property as well as who’s responsible for the maintenance of those areas.
- Roles and responsibilities of the association: This is where you find information on the maintenance responsibilities of the HOA.
- Owner maintenance responsibilities: This section covers the maintenance responsibilities of individual unit owners.
Go through the above provisions to get a clear perspective on the maintenance responsibilities of the unit owner and the HOA in your association. If you can’t find a provision that covers your specific issue, write to your HOA. Or, raise the issue at your next HOA meeting so that it can be addressed.
Confusion around HOA and homeowner repair responsibilities is a common issue in new developments. That’s because in most cases the documents have been prepared by attorneys who don’t have any first-hand experience of the building itself.
One of the best ways to resolve this contentious issue is to study and improve upon the association’s governing documents. This will help you figure out who is responsible for what moving forward.
Generally, anything inside your own condo unit is your responsibility. Any part of the condo that’s available to everyone in the HOA’s responsibility to maintain through monthly dues collected from members. If it’s an area that you share with only a few of the community’s members, then it’s a shared responsibility. We hope this article has helped you to understand how HOA and homeowner repairs work.