If you're considering purchasing a condominium, townhouse, or other property within a planned community, one of your motivations may be that much of the maintenance will be taken care of by the homeowners' association or HOA. But that doesn't mean a property within an HOA-governed community is entirely maintenance free. Keep reading to find out more.
When your community was first formed and developed, it no doubt (to comply with state law) created a document known as the Declaration of Covenants, Conditions, and Restrictions (CC&Rs) or something similar. These tend to cover a great deal of standard legal material that doesn't directly concern homeowners.
But they also contain surprisingly detailed information on community rules and policies, including who is responsible for what maintenance. Review your CC&Rs (a copy of which you should receive when considering purchasing the property) to find out more.
In a typical planned community or condo development, the HOA's maintenance responsibilities include the common areas (jointly owned and used areas such as paths, roads, entryways, laundry rooms, a gym, the community center, the pool, and so on) as well as structural portions of the property that don't belong to any one owner, such as roofs, sewage and other utility lines, some walls, and more.
The HOA is expected to take care of maintenance, repair, and replacement of these features as necessary. Its precise responsibilities should be stated in the CC&Rs. The repairs will be funded by your monthly dues payments or, if a major expense comes up, by additional collections from homeowners (as voted on and approved by the HOA board).
Again, the CC&Rs will contain the details, but you should expect to cover maintenance, repairs, and replacement of everything that you legally own—most likely the interior of your own unit, possibly including the roof, and any enclosed garden area that is part of your property. Don't count on letting these repairs slide: The CC&Rs may specifically state that you are expected to keep your unit in good repair, inside and out.
The implications of being responsible for replacement are more extensive than you might at first realize. For instance, let's say the developer sold you a unit with a built-in stove and heating system. A couple years later, they fall apart. Unless you can show that the developer sold you appliances that were lower quality than promised, or a different brand than you agreed upon in your contract, you are likely on the hook for replacing them.
You may also be responsible for repairing issues with your plumbing, electricity, glass or windows, and so on.
Some of these costs may be defrayed by purchasing homeowners' insurance for your property. The good news is, you won't need as extensive a policy as a “regular” homeowner—your HOA policy should cover damage to common areas. But you will need to make sure your coverage fills in the gaps.
Your HOA is, in most cases, really just a group of homeowners who volunteer to help govern the community. That means they can fall down on the job (fail to provide adequate maintenance) or fail to understand the extent of their responsibilities. (See What Owners Can Do If HOA Common Areas Are Not Maintained.)
Where the lines are drawn regarding responsibility for repairs and maintenance can be unclear, for example if a water leak originates in the laundry room but then damages the interior of someone's unit. If matters cannot be resolved by consulting the CC&Rs and discussing them, you may need to seek legal help.