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  • Writer's pictureCynthia, Queen Bee

The truth about Condo ownership

For most of my adult life I’ve lived on or close to the water. Looking out onto an endless and ever-changing blue horizon is my form of meditation. I know that I am very lucky to have views like this, though this has meant living in condos for most of my adult life.

My husband and I are happy to own in the Brickell area in Miami, where we have resided for well over a decade. There was a brief period of time when I tried to convince him to buy a house that I fell in love with in Coconut Grove, just a few miles south of us. He refused: not only because he was not willing to give up our water views, but also because he had no interest in dealing with the upkeep of a yard, a pool and all of the other general maintenance that a house requires.

My husband is right. There are lots of perks to apartment living, in addition to views if you’re lucky like me. Condo ownership can be much less stressful than owning a single-family home. Roof leaks, septic tanks, landscaping, pool maintenance, extermination, the list goes on of things that we simply don’t have to worry about. We pay a monthly maintenance fee and someone else takes care all of that stuff. YAY!

Still, condo owners often complain that their monthly fees are too high. And when enough reserves aren’t collected in an attempt to keep those monthly fees down, we complain when we get slammed with assessments. A word of caution: if your association is keeping costs down, be sure that it’s not as a result of deferring maintenance.

Here’s the cold hard truth: when it comes to maintenance, whether it’s the common areas or inside your unit, you will pay for it now, or you will pay for it later. Putting off maintenance is no way to save money: emergency repairs will ALWAYS cost more.

So who maintains what?

First-time condo buyers sometimes hold misconceptions with respect what owner responsibility entails when it comes to property maintenance. Your association takes care of common areas and limited common elements. Common areas are lobbies, hallways, driveways, roof, elevators, amenities - things that are available for everyone's enjoyment.

Limited common areas are properties of a condo that are assigned to a unit but considered community property and not the owner’s. These will vary depending on the governing documents of your association but can include windows, balconies, and what’s “inside the walls:” riser pipes and electrical. It’s crucial for every condo owner to understand where the association’s responsibility ends and where the owner’s begins, so read your condo docs carefully, and ask your property manager if you are in doubt.

Anything else is the owner’s responsibility to maintain or replace when needed. This can include electrical outlets and switches, plumbing fixtures, appliances, AC units, hurricane shutters, and more.

Water damage caused by neglected plumbing fixtures, for example, can be incredibly costly. In my building we learned that we were responsible for the maintenance and replacement of the water access valve when a neighbor attempted shut off his water to replace a filter. The valve was corroded and broke off in his hand. The resulting flood affected 20 units below him, and cost hundreds of thousands of dollars in repairs. Meanwhile, replacing the valve would have cost him under $400.00!

The low incidence of preventive maintenance and the ensuing and very costly emergencies in condos is much higher thank you would think. When an issue becomes and emergency, particularly if it has to do with plumbing and water, it will likely affect more than just the owner of the problem, since water has a way of creeping everywhere. Add to your costs the aggravation (or embarrassment) of upsetting your neighbors, and know that you are responsible for fixing their damages on top of yours.

Even though these are issues affecting a small number of owners or residents, the fact is that the entire community pays. When there's an emergency like a flood or a leak, the association must get involved to mitigate the problem and contain the damage while the source and the solution are found. At times they will even act as mediator between the parties involved. Every time there is a new leak, other projects that benefit of the entire community get put on hold while the emergency is dealt with. Since time is money, the more emergencies, the more time, the more costs, the higher your condo maintenance fees.

Preventive maintenance will not only save money and avoid costly emergencies, it will extend the life of many of your assets.

So, what do you need to look out for? There are certain elements that need to be serviced annually like your hurricane shutters, or twice a year, like your AC unit (and don’t forget to replace your filters monthly!). Here’s a free checklist of most common maintenance projects for condo owners. Of course you may be responsible for additional limited common areas, so make sure you supplement this with what your association requires.

Creating a maintenance plan is the best way to contain costs and avoid surprises and headaches and enjoy the positives of condo living. What maintenance projects will you tackle and when? What elements of your home are close to the end of their life cycle (IE your AC unit, water heater, appliances, bathroom fixtures)? If you don’t know, get an inspection can provide a baseline of their current condition, and help you plan ahead for replacement when needed.

"An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure." This definitely applies for preventive home maintenance. Taking these steps will ensure that you keep your home healthy and happy.


Here’s the cold hard truth: when it comes to maintenance, whether it’s the common areas or inside your unit, you will pay for it now, or you will pay for it later. Putting off maintenance is no way to save money: emergency repairs will ALWAYS cost more.

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