Common Area vs. Owner Responsibility by a D.C. Property Manager

One of the questions that often comes up when you own a condo or participate in a condo or homeowners association is: what’s the responsibility of an individual owner versus the responsibility of a condo association overall? It would be great if we could say that there is one solid answer that covers all condo associations everywhere. However, that is not ever going to be the case.

Responsibilities should be identified and assigned in your condo bylaws or the rules and regulations that have been adopted by the condo association board. That’s the first place to check when you aren’t sure who should cover what. The rough guideline is this – if the system or the item serves more than one unit, it would be the condo association responsibility, and if it serves just one specific unit, it’s the owner’s responsibility.

Some things are pretty clear. Elevators, for example, benefit the entire condo building, which means the repair and maintenance of elevators is up to the condo association. Appliances in your unit are only for you to use, so when they break down it will be your responsibility to have them fixed or replaced. There can be a few areas that are not as simple to determine, however. For example, plumbing and HVAC systems can be hard to ascertain. If you develop a water leak in your unit, it seems like it should be your own responsibility, but what if the leak is due to plumbing that feeds into different parts of the building? In some cases, the condo association will assume responsibility for whatever happens behind the walls. Not always, however.

The best way to address these concerns is to make sure your condo association spells out the responsibilities in the bylaws. If there is nothing in the bylaws to assign who takes care of what, they should adopt language in their regulations to help property owners know when they will be held responsible for repairs and maintenance. That way, everything is clear before something happens. Property owners will know what they are and are not responsible for.

Insurance is another matter for property owners and condo associations to grapple with. You’ll need to be covered individually for your own unit, and the association will also need to maintain its own insurance coverage.

There are a lot of specific details we can get into, so if you have any questions about what you are responsible for and what your association needs to cover, please contact us at Chatel Real Estate, and we’ll answer all the questions you have.