February 26, 2010

Maintenance and Repair of Condominium Buildings - Who Pays?

Condominiums are divided into units, limited common elements, and common elements. The Washington Condominium Act, which governs condominiums created since July 1, 1990, establishes default rules regarding boundaries and upkeep. These rules have been incorporated into many past and present condominium declarations.

The Washington Condominium Act states that (subject to the declaration) the walls, floors, and ceilings are the boundaries of a unit. Items such as wallboard, plaster, tiles, paint, and other materials constituting part of the finished surfaces are part of the unit. Items such as flues, ducts, conduits, and other fixtures that lie partially within a unit are considered limited common elements to the extent that they serve only that unit. Items such as porches, balconies, exterior windows, and exterior doors that are designed to serve a single unit are limited common elements as well. The rest of the condominium is composed of common elements, which often include siding, roofs, and recreational areas.

The Act later describes who is normally responsible for each portion of a condominium. It states that (subject to the declaration and two other exceptions) the association must pay for maintenance, repair, and replacement of the common elements and the limited common elements and the owners must pay for the maintenance, repair, and replacement of their units. The Act allows associations to shift expenses related to limited common elements to the owners if the declarations permit this. The Act also allows associations under its jurisdiction to shift common expenses caused by an owner’s misconduct to that owner.

The default rules discussed above can be altered by condominium declarations, so those documents must be carefully reviewed in each instance to determine liability for repair costs. If the board is uncertain about the proper outcome, it should ask the association’s attorney to issue a legal opinion on the matter.