What Is a Condominium?
When speaking about condominium ownership, often people are referring to a specific type of home ownership than to a specific type of home. Condos are most frequently thought of as high rise residential buildings in bustling downtown areas, but this type of ownership can also apply to low rise multi-family buildings and townhouses. When you purchase a condo, you are purchasing absolute ownership of a single unit within a multi-unit building, and also a shared interest in the ownership of the rest of the building's shared spaces and structural elements.
Condominiums are a collection of private residences or "units", each belonging to a different home owner. The boundaries of private ownership within a condo include everything inside the shared walls of one unit, including the inner layer of drywall, which allows the homeowner to make some interior modifications without impacting the common area of the building.
Anything outside this boundary is held in an undivided ownership interest by a corporation established at the time of the condominium's construction. The corporation holds this property in trust on behalf of the homeowners as a group, and is responsible for the maintenance and repairs of the common space which may include lobbies, elevators, hallways, recreational facilities, gardens, walkways, etc. This joint ownership also extends to the building's structural elements, and its electrical, mechanical and heating systems.
Since the ownership of these common spaces and elements are shared, so is the cost of their operation and maintenance. Each unit owner has a percent interest in these elements, which is generally calculated based on the value of the individual unit compared to the total value of all units in the building. This percent interest will determine the amount of monthly condo fees each owner must pay toward the maintenance and upkeep of the building's shared spaces.
The corporation responsible for the maintenance of the shared condominium spaces is typically managed by an elected Board of Directors, usually made up of individual condo owners. As an owner of a unit in a condo, you will have the right to vote for members of the board or run to be a member yourself.
This Board of Directors or Owners Association makes decisions on behalf of all members, including financial decisions that may impact your monthly condo fees or result in one-time levies or fees that must be paid. These decisions are generally made in monthly meetings, and it's a good idea to attend as many of these meetings as possible so you have a good idea of the status of your building, the reserve funds, and the management direction.