FHA Condo Approval Specialist: How Do I Know If I am Responsible to Fix Something?

How Do I Know If I am Responsible to Fix Something?

How Do I Know If I am Responsible to Fix Something?

condominium questionCondominiums and planned communities (and cooperatives) are forms of common interest ownership and when something breaks, leaks or malfunctions, there is commonly a question as to who is responsible for fixing it.  The answer to the question is “who owns it?”

The following is a discussion as to how to determine who owns it.  The short answer is to read the legal governing documents (aka Declaration) of the community.  If it’s not included in the unit boundaries, then it’s probably the HOA’s responsibility.

Reading the Declaration can be as much fun as reading a textbook of advanced physics and as tedious as figuring out Schrödinger’s Equation, well, for some of us. (Any physics majors out there?)

Common Interest Ownership refers to a form of ownership as part of a community whereby the unit owner owns a space within designated unit boundaries and owns an undivided interest in anything else within the boundaries of the community.  Everything within the boundaries of the community is broken up into units, common elements and limited common elements.

Unit Boundaries

The boundaries of a unit are specified in the declaration of the condominium.  This is what the unit owner owns exclusively.  The unit boundaries can vary greatly depending on the style of the unit and the whims of the developer.

Apartment-style Units

Units of this style would include those in a converted apartment building or in a high-rise, also known as a vertical condominium.  Vertical and horizontal planes would describe the boundaries of the unit and the owner would own that which is located within these boundaries.  The exception to this would be in cases where the mechanical features, such as electricity, plumbing or heating ducts, are limited common elements (see below).

Townhouse-style Units

townhouse condo unitThese units typically have more than one floor and share one or two common walls with other units.  This would look like a loaf of bread where the individual slices would represent separate units.

The boundaries of these units can vary from project to project but typically the vertical planes would “studs-in” and the horizontal planes would be the inside of the rafters and the basement floor.  This would mean that the unit owner does not own nor is responsible for the exterior of the unit including the roof, siding, windows, front steps, deck/patio or anything that is outside of these boundaries.  Limited common elements would also be excluded from ownership which could include the furnace, hot water heater, etc.

Where this can vary is if the developer sets the boundaries to include the exterior of the units.  Then the unit owner could own the roof, siding and windows and even a plot of land (front or back yard or both), the parking spaces and a detached garage.

detached site condo

Detached or Site Condominiums

These are free-standing units that otherwise resemble single-family homes but are under a declaration of condominium.  The boundaries here can vary widely as well.  As with townhouse-style units, the developer can set the boundaries to include or exclude the exterior, land, porch, deck, patio, front steps, driveway and parking spaces.

Common Elements

Common Elements are anything else that exists within the boundaries of the community but outside of the designated unit boundaries.  This can include the roads, sidewalks, open areas, wooded areas, gardens, pool, tennis court and recreational facilities.  Depending on the description of the unit boundaries, common elements may also include the land adjacent to, in front of and/or in back of the units; the exterior of the buildings; the roofs of the buildings; and the designated parking spots.

Every unit owner is a member of the homeowner’s association (HOA) and every member has an undivided interest in all of the common elements.  This also means that all members are allowed to use the common elements subject to certain rules and regulations as set forth by the legal documents.

The HOA, collectively, is responsible for the insurance, maintenance and upkeep of the common elements.  This is one of the primary responsibilities of the HOA.  The members of the HOA pay common charges which feeds a budget that pays for these expenses.

Limited Common Elements

Limited Common Elements are common elements but are restricted to the use of a particular unit owner.  These can include front steps, decks/patios, garages, parking spaces and other features that are reserved for the use of a particular unit owner.

Limited common elements can also include mechanical features such as duct work, plumbing, electrical wiring, furnaces, hot water heaters and air conditioners that service individual units.

Because these are common areas, they are collectively owned by all members of the association and the HOA is financially responsible for these elements, not the unit owners directly unless so stated in the legal documents.

How do I know if I am responsible for fixing something?

The best way is to refer to the declaration of condominium (or planned community) to determine whether or not you own it.  If you live in a townhouse-style unit and the furnace is not deemed a limited common element, it is probably your responsibility.

If you live in a townhouse-style unit and the unit boundaries include the windows and doors but not the siding and roof and your roof is leaking, chances are it’s the HOA’s responsibility.  If your window is broken in this scenario, it’s probably your responsibility.

If you believe that the malfunctioning feature is the responsibility of the HOA and have been told that they won’t fix it, I would recommend consulting an attorney.  There are attorneys who specialize in common interest ownership law in every state.

Upper image courtesy of Stuart Miles/freedigitalphotos.net

Condo images courtesy of yours truly.

The Condominium Project Approval Team at ReadySetLoan is dedicated to helping condominium projects across the nation to obtain their approvals with FHA and the VA or become recertified with FHA.  We have assisted nearly 200 condominiums and we can help your association.


ReadySetLoan is an active member of the Connecticut and New England chapters of the Community Associations Institute (CAI) and is a frequent contributor to Common Interest Magazine as an expert in FHA/VA condominium project approvals.


Please contact us with any questions regarding FHA or VA condominium project approvals.  You can email me at askeric@readysetloan.com or call me at 404-433-4565. I will be happy to answer any of your questions.


FHA/VA Condo Approval Specialist

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Comment balloon 9 commentsReadySetLoan Condo Approval Team • February 17 2014 08:23AM


Hi Eric, Very nice treatise. Your detached or site condominium sounds like Planned Unit Development (PUD) which many people simply call a "gated community."

Bill Roberts

Posted by Bill Roberts, "Baby Boomer" Retirement Planner (Brooks and Dunphy Real Estate) about 5 years ago

The only difference is the site condos are declared "condominiums" and the PUD's are declared as such.  That's my article for tomorrow!

Posted by ReadySetLoan Condo Approval Team, The FHA/VA Condo Project Approval Specialists (ReadySetLoan Condo Team LLC) about 5 years ago

    Buying into a COA or HOA can be a blessing or a curse.  Or sometimes both!  Have an Attorney review the Docs with you as a Contingency, as well as reviewing the finances of the Association.

Posted by Fred Griffin presently on Leave of Absence, Licensed Florida Real Estate Broker (Fred Griffin Real Estate) about 5 years ago

Eric - thanks for restating all of that.  I used to read that stuff when I was condo board president.  It is just as important to have a management company that understands it and does not make incorrect representations to unit owners.

Posted by Grant Schneider, Your Coach Helping You Create Successful Outcomes (Performance Development Strategies) about 5 years ago

Eric, I'll be the first to admit I didn't read my by-laws when I bought my townhome. However, I do refer back to it if I have a question about something.

Posted by Suzanne Otto, Your Montgomery County PA home stager (Six Twenty Designs) about 5 years ago

Good morning Eric. I'm sure Realtors are asked this question all the time, I have had some of the answers repeated to me and not at all like what you described in your post. Excellent job, as usual!

Posted by Joe Petrowsky, Your Mortgage Consultant for Life (Mortgage Consultant, Right Trac Financial Group, Inc. NMLS # 2709) about 5 years ago

Hi Eric.  Where your master plan insurance starts is always important to know.

Posted by Conrad Allen, Webster, Ma, Realtor (Re/Max Professional Associates) about 5 years ago

Fred - there are obvious adv/disadv to owning a unit in an association.  An attorney should always review the docs prior to a purchase.

Grant - yes, it is important that the information is accurate.

It's ok, Suzanne - when I bought my unit 15 years ago, I didn't read that stuff either.  Not until I had to replace my slider...

Joe - thank you!

Conrad - that is an important piece of information.

Posted by ReadySetLoan Condo Approval Team, The FHA/VA Condo Project Approval Specialists (ReadySetLoan Condo Team LLC) about 5 years ago


I read your March 5th post and followed the link in that post back to this one. Great information! Thanks for the lesson. While I have been over that sort of information before, it was good to review it and refresh what I had forgotten.

Posted by John Juarez, ePRO, SRES, GRI, PMN (The Medford Real Estate Team) almost 5 years ago