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What is a Condominium?

(Source: CMHC)

A “condominium” refers to a form of legal ownership, as opposed to a style of construction. Condominiums are most often thought of as high-rise residential buildings, but this form of ownership can also apply to townhouse complexes, individual houses and low-rise residential buildings. Condominiums are also known as strata in British Columbia or syndicates of co-ownership in Quebec.

Condominiums consist of two parts. The first part is a collection of private dwellings called “units.” Each unit is owned by and registered in the name of the purchaser of the unit. The second part consists of the common elements of the building that may include lobbies, hallways, elevators, recreational facilities, walkways, gardens, etc. Common elements may also include structural elements and mechanical and electrical services. The ownership of these common elements is shared amongst the individual unit owners, as is the cost for their operation, maintenance and ongoing replacement.

Each unit owner has an undivided interest in the common elements of the building.
This ownership interest is often referred to as a “unit factor.” The unit factor for any particular unit will generally be calculated in proportion to the value that the unit has in relation to the total value of all of the units in the condominium corporation. The unit factor will tell you what your ownership percentage is in the common elements and will be used in calculating the monthly fees that you must pay towards their upkeep and renewal. The creation of a condominium is regulated by provincial or territorial condominium legislation and municipal guidelines. It can be created in many different ways. In some provinces, a developer, or other interested parties, may register a declaration to create a condominium, while in others, an application may be made to have title issued for the units pursuant to an “approved plan of condominium.” The operation of condominiums is also governed by provincial or territorial legislation and the condominium corporation’s own declaration, bylaws and rules. Once a condominium corporation has been established, a board of directors, elected by, and generally made up of, the individual condominium owners, takes responsibility for the management of the corporation’s business affairs. There is usually a turnover meeting where this transfer of responsibility takes place. Each unit owner has voting rights at meetings. Your voting rights will generally be in proportion to your unit factor.


What is a Condominium? (Second)

A condominium building is like an apartment building. However, instead of renting your individual apartment (unit), you own it. Others who live in the building also own their units. In addition, all of the owners in the building collectively own and share the common areas (hallways, laundry room, exercise room, etc.). So when you invest in a condo, you invest not only in the unit you’re purchasing, but indirectly in the units of others and in the common areas as well. You invest in the philosophy that collectively, all unit owners will help run your building and maintain a satisfactory or even exemplary standard of quality for the benefit of all owners.

This is done by electing a Board of Directors, who in turn hires a management company to oversee building maintenance, record keeping, and the collection of Condo fees. The Board also solicits support from the unit owners for the distribution and execution of things that need to be done to keep the building running well.

Remember that it is your responsibility to thoroughly investigate the pros and cons of your new purchase. If you need help interpreting documents, you may want to seek assistance from the Board of Directors of the condo you are considering or counsel from a real estate lawyer or someone with the professional expertise & qualifications to assist you.

Nonetheless, despite the few disadvantages of condominium living, condos continue to remain the most popular form of real estate ownership here in Toronto and the metropolitan area.

What types of Condominiums are there?

Residential condominiums can be high-rise or low-rise (under four storeys), town or row houses, duplexes (one unit over another), triplexes (stack of three units), single-detached houses, stacked townhouses or freehold plots.

There are even mixed-use condominiums that are partly residential and partly commercial buildings. They come in various sizes with diverse features and they can be found in almost every price range.

What do I own when I purchase a condominium?

When you buy a condominium, you own your unit, as well as a percentage of the
common property elements allocated to the unit. The boundaries of each individual unit and the percentage of common elements you own may vary from condominium to condominium, depending on how they are specified in the condominium’s governing documents. Sometimes, the unit boundary can be at the backside of the interior drywall of the unit’s dividing walls. Alternatively, the unit boundary can be the centre line of the unit’s walls. The boundaries of your condominium unit are an important consideration at the time of purchase— particularly if alterations and renovations are a potential part of your purchase plan. The unit typically includes any equipment, systems, finishes, etc. that are contained only in the individual unit. The right to use one or more parking spots and storage areas may be included. While you may have exclusive access to parking spot or storage area, you seldom actually own the space itself.

For a freehold condominium (or bare/vacant land condominium), the unit may be the
entire house including the exterior walls, the roof and in some cases, the land surrounding the structure. Prior to making a purchase, you may wish to hire a professional surveyor to review the site plan for the condominium corporation so you know exactly where your unit’s boundaries lay. Components of building systems that serve more than one unit, such as structural elements and mechanical and electrical services, are often considered part of the common property elements, particularly when they are located outside of the unit boundaries specified in the condominium’s governing documents. There may be some parts of the condominium complex that are called “exclusive use common property elements.” They are outside the unit boundaries, but are for the exclusive use of the owner of a particular unit. Balconies, parking spaces, storage lockers, driveways and front or rear lawn areas are common examples of exclusive use common property elements. It is important to be aware of any exclusive use common property elements before you make an offer to purchase a condominium. While these spaces are exclusive to your use, there may be restrictions on how and when you use them. For instance, you may not be able to park a boat, RV or commercial vehicle in your assigned parking spot. There may also be restrictions on what you can place on your balcony.

What Rules and Restrictions Might I Encounter in a Condominium?

Every condominium is governed by its own unique rules, regulations and bylaws.
These may be very strict or very relaxed depending on the nature of the condominium corporation. These are necessary to ensure that condominiums are properly operated and maintained and to define the rights and obligations of the individual owners. With respect to rules regarding the individual owners, condominiums may have restrictions regarding the number of occupants per unit, pets, noise, parking and when certain amenities may be used. Many condominiums have strict rules concerning the alteration of the unit space or its appearance. For example, the condominium corporation may require all the exterior doors of units to be the same colour to keep the architectural and community aspect of the condominium intact. Additionally, you may have to get the permission from the condominium’s board of directors before you change exterior fixtures or install a satellite dish, especially as some changes may affect the condominium structure or safety.

Noise is an important consideration, especially for people moving from a single-family dwelling to a multi-unit rules regarding what noise levels will be tolerated and at what hours. For example, if you are hosting a party in your unit, you may be asked to turn the music down at a specific hour. You may wish to clarify the rules regarding noise, and if possible, talk to current residents about any noise problems they have experienced in the past and how they were handled. Individual condominium owners may be obliged to attend condominium meetings or serve on condominium boards and committees. Almost all condominiums have requirements for condominium fees. There can also be mandatory charges for unforeseen repairs to the condominium common elements. Be sure to carefully review and consider all rules and obligations when considering the purchase of a condominium. They should be available from the unit’s vendor (the seller), the property manager or the board of directors. The rules of the condominium will be clearly outlined in the condominium governing documents, and you should become familiar with them prior to purchasing a particular condominium unit. While the rules and regulations of condominiums may initially seem to be overly strict, particularly to those used to rental housing or owning their own home, they help to ensure that condominiums are safe and enjoyable communities to live in for all concerned.

Who Takes Care of the Building and Grounds?

Most condominium corporations contract-out the day-to-day operations of the condominium to a property management company under the direction of the condominium’s board of directors. The cleaning of common areas, payment of common area utility bills, operation and maintenance of the central space and domestic hot water heating and air-conditioning systems, snow and garbage removal and the collection of monthly maintenance fees may fall under the jurisdiction of the property manager. There are usually limits to the property manager’s authority. For example, anything that requires a major expenditure, or an expenditure not accounted for in the annual budget, may have to be approved by the board of directors. The property manager is not usually responsible for items or operational problems within individual units, unless they are related to the common elements (e.g., heating systems, roofs, windows, exterior walls).
Some condominiums prefer to deal with the management of daily maintenance themselves. These are sometimes referred to as “self-managed” condominiums. Under this management style, the board of directors— and in some cases, volunteers who are residents or owners—will carry out the day-to-day tasks of operating the condominium. It is important when considering the purchase of a particular condominium, to ensure you are comfortable with the management style, whether it is a contract property manager or self-managed. This may have implications on both condominium fees and any obligations you may have towards the operation and maintenance of the building.
The condominium unit owner is responsible for some maintenance duties and the condominium corporation for others. These responsibilities vary from condominium to condominium and should be clearly laid out in the condominium’s governing documents.

Maintenance duties for the unit owner can include:
• Internal unit plumbing, appliances, heating, air-conditioning or electrical systems that are contained in and serve only that unit;
• Cleaning window surfaces that are accessible from inside the unit;
• Cleaning some parts of the common elements, such as balconies and patios that are assigned to or exclusive use of, the unit holder.
Maintenance duties for the condominium corporation can include:
• Common plumbing, electrical and heating and air-conditioning systems;
• Roof and wall repairs;
• Windows and doors—repairs and replacement;
• Grounds cutting, watering;
• Recreational amenities;
• Parking areas;
• Any other part of the property that is not part of a unit.
Sometimes the responsibility for maintenance and repair can be shared. For example, a heating and air-conditioning (HVAC) system may be part of the common elements, but the unit owner may be responsible for some tasks, such as changing filters.

What Insurance Will I Need?

Both the unit owner and the condominium corporation must have insurance. Specific insurance requirements vary from province to province.

The corporation may be responsible for insuring:
• Common areas and units;
• The corporation’s property, such as furniture, equipment, vehicles, etc.;
• Personal liability—against claims for bodily injury and/or property damage occurring on the condominium property or caused by some act or omission of the condominium corporation;
• Boilers and equipment (for example, elevators, HVAC systems, etc.);
• Directors and officers insurance—to respond to claims made personally against a director or officer of the condominium;
• All perils as per the condominium governing documents.
The unit owner may be responsible for insuring:
• Personal property contents such as appliances, furniture and jewelry, and items stored in lockers.
• Improvements and betterments made to the unit (for example, finishing a basement, installing new cabinets). Check your provincial legislation to find out if insurance for improvements is your responsibility.
• Personal liability.

Can I Rent My Condominium?

Many condominium buyers purchase their units as an investment with the intent of renting the unit out. While most condominium corporations allow owners to rent their units to a third party, you should confirm this through a review of the condominium’s governing documents and your provincial legislation.
What Type of Condominium is Right for Me?
Condominiums come in all sizes and all kinds of building forms. There are newly constructed condominiums, condominiums that have been converted from office or warehouse space, and re-sale condominiums.

This section will explain some of the differences between condominiums.
New, Re-Sale or Conversion— What Are the Differences?
The term “new” is applied to condominium buildings that are either under construction
or have been newly completed, while the term “conversion” can mean the building was previously used for something else but has been, or is to be, renovated for residential use. For example, many loftstyle condominiums are converted from former commercial or industrial buildings. Conversions may also refer to the changing of units from rental units to condominium units. Both new and conversion condominiums are usually purchased from a developer. “Re-sale” condominiums are units that have already been occupied, typically in older buildings, and are offered for sale by the current owner.

New Condominiums
Newly constructed condominiums can be an attractive option for the prospective owner.
They offer all of the benefits of a newly constructed building (fresh appearance, modern fittings, surfaces, elevators, appliances) while providing unit owners with the chance
to customize their units. You can purchase a new condominium from the developer either before or during its construction and well before the condominium corporation is formed. A developer may have some unsold units available after the condominium has been completed and registered. In some market conditions, a developer may wait to sell a majority (or all) of the units before registering the condominium corporation or starting construction. Deposits are typically required to secure, or reserve, a condominium unit in a new development.

When looking over the drawings and specifications, ensure that you are aware of the basis of any floor area measurements: do they reflect the actual floor area of the unit or do they include the exterior and interior wall floor space areas as well? You should also be aware of plans to reduce the ceiling height in any locations in the unit to accommodate ductwork and other mechanical and electrical services. This can have an impact on the esthetics of the unit and affect the eventual location of lighting fixtures and furniture as well as wall decorations and fittings. Similarly, be aware of the future location of heating and air-conditioning equipment, ventilators and hot water heaters as this can affect the availability and esthetics of the space in your unit.

Other important issues to consider in the purchase of a new condominium are related
to construction quality. Some key questions to consider include: Are there any special provisions to limit noise between units? How are the units heated, cooled and ventilated? How are odours controlled? Is the building energy-efficient? Who operates and maintains the heating and air-conditioning systems? What options are available for suite wall and floor finishes, cabinets and fixtures?

You should also be aware that the view from your unit might be subject to change if the building is being constructed in a newly developed area or as a part of a larger complex. Be sure to ask about the future construction plans for adjacent open areas as your view may change significantly with the construction of a neighbouring high-rise. When shopping around for a new condominium, it is important to ensure that you are aware of what is and what is not included in the purchase price. For instance, are there amenities such as pools and parking?

How is access to such amenities paid for? Are finishes within the units included in the purchase price? Are there other charges over and above the purchase price you should be aware of? Are utilities (gas, electricity and water charges) covered in the monthly condominium fees or not? All such questions must be considered to ensure that you can compare the overall costs associated with different condominiums.
Rules and regulations for new condominiums vary from province to province, therefore it is a good idea to check your provincial legislation. New home warranties are often available for newly constructed condominiums—make yourself knowledgeable about what the warranties cover and for how long. Quite often, there is a lengthy wait before a new condominium project is completed and you can move in. It is always important to evaluate the current state of the construction project. Consider whether or not it seems reasonable that the project will be completed by the date set out in the purchase agreement from the developer before making your moving and financing arrangements.

Agreements of purchase and sale may contain provisions that allow the developer to extend the dates for making the units available for occupancy. This can be problematic if you have made arrangements to vacate your existing housing by a specific date based on the original closing date. If this is an important consideration for you, ensure that you are aware of any occupancy delay clause in your purchase agreement and plan accordingly. You should also check your provincial homeowner protection legislation to learn your rights in cases where agreed upon occupancy dates are missed.

Disclosure Statements:
In some jurisdictions, in compliance with legislation, the developer of a new condominium must provide you with a “disclosure statement” before the sale agreement is binding. This includes, among other things, a summary of the condominium’s features/amenities, the condominium’s governing documents and budget for the first year after registration. This should give you some indication of the rules, regulations and financial situation of the condominium corporation before you buy into it. Your province may have legislation that provides a “cooling off” period during which buyers can review the information contained in the disclosure statement and rescind their agreement to purchase if they are not comfortable with their original purchase decision. Ensure you obtain and carefully review the disclosure statement within the specified time frame. If a cooling-off period is not provided for in your provincial condominium legislation, try making it a condition of your offer to purchase to allow you to have a few days to review this information.

New Home Warranties:
Most provinces have new home warranty programs, which include new condominium projects. Warranty programs are put in place to ensure that new dwellings are properly constructed and that they meet the construction specifications. Warranty programs provide for the reporting of defects in, or omissions of, warrantied elements within specific time frames. Often, the developer makes arrangements for independent inspection companies to audit the condominium, individual units and common elements within the first year of construction. The developer is responsible for correcting defects in, or omissions of, warrantied elements that occur during the warranty period. Should the developer default on this obligation, the warranty program can provide funding to correct deficiencies in warrantied elements up to a specified maximum dollar amount. All of the owners of new condominiums are expected to co-operate with the new home warranty inspections and to report any defects or omissions in their units. You should be aware that new home warranties do not cover every item that one might construe as a defect. Be sure you are aware of what the warranty does and does not cover, and for how long, before making a claim. New home warranties may also protect the deposit you place on your new condominium, up to a maximum amount, in case the developer cannot, or will not complete your unit, through no fault of your own. Check with your provincial or territorial government to find out more about the warranty program as program coverage varies from province to province.

Advantages of buying a new condominium may include:
• A lower purchase price (depending upon market conditions);
• More choice of locations within the building (if applicable);
• A broader range of options and/or upgrades;
• Newer buildings have less risk of having to undergo costly, noisy and intrusive repairs
and renovations;
• New home warranty protection
Disadvantages of buying a new condominium may include:
• Because construction may not have started, you cannot “see” what you are buying and must rely on artist sketches and floor plans (which may change). Be sure to have the unit’s boundaries, location, finishes, materials, chattels, etc. clearly specified in the purchase agreement.
• Your initial deposit will be tied up for the duration of construction.
• Financial institutions may not give you a mortgage on an unregistered condominium.
• Construction of your unit may not be completed by the expected date.
• You may move into your unit while construction continues in others—this can be noisy and disruptive.

Conversion Condominiums

Buying a conversion condominium in the early stages of development is similar to
buying a new condominium. The biggest difference is that the exterior of the building
(or building envelope) already exists. The majority of the construction project usually
consists of modifications to some of the common property components and the creation of individual unit spaces. The transfer of the title of ownership may not take place until after occupancy. You should check with your provincial government to find out if the warranty program in your province covers condominium conversion projects.

Advantages of buying a conversion may include:
• Many of the same advantages of buying a new condominium apply to conversions, (e.g., choice of unit, opportunities for upgrades, etc.).
• Some conversions offer unique designs, (e.g., lofts).
• Converted units are often, but not always, somewhat less expensive than a comparable
sized new unit.
• Conversions may be located in established and desirable parts of cities that are well
served by entertainment, educational, transit and other amenities.

Disadvantages of buying a conversion may include:
• As new home warranty programs may not apply to conversion condominiums (check
with your provincial program), there may not be construction warranties other than
that offered by the developer.
• The building structure and perhaps some of its internal components will already be
old, which may mean major (hence costly) repairs may be needed sooner rather than
later. This could be problematic if the condominium corporation has not had sufficient time to build an adequate reserve fund. This may have an impact on condominium fees and extraordinary charges to the unit owners.
• Occupancy dates can be changed due to construction delays.

Existing/Re-Sale Condominiums

One of the advantages of purchasing an existing condominium is that you get to see the unit, building and grounds before you make your purchase. You also have the opportunity to meet other unit owners, speak with the board of directors and ask questions to the property manager. Consider the age of the building and what repairs have been made and when. Ensure that the condominium is well maintained and managed. All of this will provide you with valuable information as to whether or not the condominium is right for you.

STATUS CERTIFICATE (Source: Stephen Shub)

Previously it was called an estoppel certificate. The new STATUS CERTIFICATE can be ordered by anyone (realtors, appraisers, a person walking by the building) so long as a written request is made together with the fee (maximum of $100.00, including taxes). From the time the request is made in writing and the fee is paid, management has up to 10 days to make the STATUS CERTIFICATE available with all the usual accompanying documents (including declaration, by-laws, budget, financial statements, rules, insurance certificate). One of the new statements in the Status Certificate obligates management to report the number of units in the complex that management is aware are leased units (as opposed to owner occupied units) which might be a factor for consideration for some buyers.

For a buyer to rely on the contents of the STATUS CERTIFICATE, it is no longer a requirement that the certificate be ordered by (or in the name of) the purchaser. Any Purchaser or mortgage lender is entitled to rely on whatever the STATUS CERTIFICATE discloses as of the date the Certificate was issued.

The STATUS CERTIFICATE must now disclose much more information about reserve fund, existing circumstances that might require a future increase in common expenses (or special assessment), possible litigation, etc. The Certificate must list the types of agreements (including management agreement) to which the condominium corporation is a party and a statement that the person requesting a status certificate has the right to obtain copies of such agreements upon paying an additional fee for labour and copying charges.

RECOMMENDATION: It is highly recommended that when vendors list a condo for sale, the vendor should order a status certificate since almost any incoming offer will be conditional on a status certificate review. Vendors and listing agents should make themselves aware of what prospective buyers will see in the status certificate and seek any needed clarification about any issues with the property manager before (if possible) receiving an offer. Knowing, and understanding the product being sold is important! Also, by ordering the status certificate at the time of listing, a vendor can save 10 days upon receiving an offer (to obtain the status certificate later with uncertainty and lost time) while the clock is ticking for a status certificate condition in a purchaser's offer.

The buyer's new condition clause should be one that requires the vendor to pay for the status certificate since the vendor can more quickly order and obtain the status certificate due to the vendor's easy access to management (although anyone can order it); also, the purchaser's lawyer might need to order a new status certificate as an update before closing (if the closing date is more than 60 days into the future) which means that the vendor pays for the certificate during the condition period and the purchaser pays for any update needed before closing by the purchaser's lawyer (depending on how far into the future the closing date is). Reserve Fund Study - Previously there was no requirement in the old Act for reserve fund studies which were generated by management companies who recommended them be done, as prudent managers. The main requirement in the old act to fund reserves was that a minimum of 10% of monthly common expenses paid must be deposited into a reserve account for future major capital expenditures (eventual replacement of roof, windows, major repair items, etc.).

Under the new Condominium Act, existing registered condominium corporations must prepare a reserve fund study within three years of May 5, 2001. Until such a study is done, the condo corporation must still deposit at least 10% of the monthly common expenses into the reserve fund. The study evaluates the remaining life expectancy of each building component over a projected 30 year period, considers the projected replacement cost of each building component and a financial plan to fund such replacement through the projected reserve fund with recommendations for what amount the monthly deposit should be into reserve (whether it be 10%, more, or less, depending on the current balance in the reserve fund, the existing state of repair of the project, etc.). Reserve fund studies must be updated in intervals of not more than 3 years from the last study.

The Condominium Board of Directors must propose a plan for funding the reserve fund within 120 days of receiving a reserve fund study. Notice of the funding plan must be sent to unit owners within 15 days of the proposal by the Board of Directors who have 30 days from sending the notice to begin its implementation. WITHIN 10 years of the first reserve fund study done between May 5, 2001 and May 5, 2004, the funding plan must achieve an adequate level of the reserve fund to satisfy the requirements proposed by the reserve fund study. Once a level of adequacy is achieved for the reserve fund, future reserve fund study updates must ensure that any inadequacy of the reserve fund is remedied within the next fiscal year following the fiscal year in which the study, or update, was completed.




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