Before you buy a condominium, and in some cases, before you start looking for a condo, you should read through the Declaration of Condominium. I know you are probably thinking that there are far better uses of your time than combing through a 100-page document full of legal jargon that probably won’t affect you anyways. And this might be true. But if you’re like me and you’d rather be safe than sorry, here’s some guidance that will help you skim through those lengthy docs and pick out the important stuff.
For starters, don’t be intimidated by the fancy legal verbiage. A Declaration of Condominium is nothing more than an instrument used to create and define the purpose, rights and interests of the Condominium. It also spells out how the Developer plans to convey the units and common property to the public. I’ll break it down by section and identify the key components you should pay attention to.
Declaration of Condominium
Establishment of Condo Statement / Description of Improvements / Definitions
These sections provide general information on the condominium including number of units, number of floors, description of units, common elements, and limited common elements. This is where you can find out how the parking spaces and storage units are divvied out. There will also be a description of the unit boundaries which helps you determine your limits of liability.
Condo Association Powers & Responsibilities
This section identifies the party responsible for operation and management of the condominium. Reference is made to the Articles of Incorporation and By-Laws of the Association which are attachments to the Declaration of Condominium.
Membership / Voting Rights / Amendments
This section explains how and when control of the Condominium will be transferred from the Developer to the Condo Association. It explains your rights as a unit owner and the procedures required for making changes to the Declaration of Condominium.
Assessments, Fees and Charges
If you’re looking to buy a condominium, you’re probably already aware that you will be responsible for monthly maintenance fees, or HOA Fees; But what about Special Assessments and Capital Improvement Assessments? Are there limits to what you could be charged? Defaulting on these payments could lead to a lien being placed on your unit, and even foreclosure.
Maintenance, Alterations and Improvements
This section is particularly important for all those DIY home remodelers. Find out whether or not you are permitted to make changes to your condo unit, and what hoops you will have to jump through to get them approved by the Association.
Occupancy and Use Restrictions
Thinking of buying a condominium for use as a rental property? Make sure to read this section and find out any restrictions on lease terms. Are pets allowed? Find out breed restrictions and limits on the number of pets that unit owners are allowed to have. Will you be allowed to hang Christmas lights on your balcony? Were you planning on running a business out of your home? Some of the restrictions you come across in this section could turn out to be deal-breakers for prospective owners.
Exhibits / Attachments
Common Element Ownership Interests
The ownership of the common areas is shared and equitably divided amongst all of the units. This section, or Exhibit, will typically include a listing of all the units or unity types in the condominium with their share of the common elements expressed as a percentage.
Schedule of Estimated Assessments
Some Condo Documents even include the original schedule of Assessments for each unit. This is a handy piece of information for comparison to today’s assessments. Small increases each year due to inflation are expected, but a drastic hike could be a sign that the Association is financially insecure.
Legal Description / Plat / Floor Plans
This is one of the few places on the internet where the general public can access Building Floor Plans for Condominiums. And there’s a lot of useful information to be found in these documents. General layout of the building, guest parking, spaciousness of parking garage, size of the common areas and pool, direction each unit faces, number of elevators, which unit types are available on each floor, etc. With all this information at your fingertips, you can really cut down on the amount of time spent shopping for the perfect building.
Articles of Incorporation
This section identifies the purpose and powers of the Condominium Association. It includes the initial members and officers, as well as several indemnification clauses.
The By-Laws explain how the Condominium Association will carry out its duties. Information is provided on meetings, voting, membership and elections, financial management and reporting, determination and collection of assessments, and rules and regulations.
After you’re done with the Declaration of Condominium document, it’s a good idea to look through all of the recorded Amendments. This is where you will find out any of the major changes that went on since the Developer relinquished control of the building. If you’ve made it this far, you can rest assured knowing that you’re a lot less likely to come across any unexpected surprises when you move into your new condominium.