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When Two Worlds Collide: A Look at Condo Rules vs. Owners’ Rights

September 26, 2016 Posted in Community Association Law

Many people find condo living very appealing, primarily because of the amenities that are often included with purchasing a unit. However, as with most things in life, there are pros and cons to living in a condominium.

Along with all of the wonderful amenities offered by homeowners’ associations comes a set of rules that each homeowner must abide by. That being said, it is important for condo boards and associations to understand each other’s rights. If you have any questions or concerns in this regard, contact a New Jersey condo association lawyer to help ensure that the homeowners’ rights are not violated.

A Note About the Master Deed and the Condominium Act

One of the most important documents that govern homeowners’ associations and condominiums is the master deed and By-Laws. Simply stated, the master deed and the By-Laws are the cornerstone of the whole condo association and it should be made available for all owners to review at their leisure.

The Master Deed stems from the Condominium Act of New Jersey, which was adopted back in 1970. The Act provides a blueprint for everything from transitioning the condo from the developer to the association, to detailing how the condo should be established, structured and run.

The Bylaws and the Board’s Role

Whenever someone buys a condo unit, the owner should expect to receive a number of documents including a copy of the master deed and the bylaws. The association may then distribute additional documents, such as specific rules and regulations for the community.

Some HOAs release copies of bills and a budget as well, along with a newsletter that may contain administrative and financial information. The owner is responsible for ensuring that he or she has read and understands the information contained in each document.

The Master Deed, By-Laws and any rules and regulations established by the association have a direct impact on an owner’s day-to-day living. For instance, the association can control a number of owner actions, including one’s personal conduct, the types of pets allowed, parking restrictions and the use of outdoor furnishings.

Among the more common restrictions are those relating to the outside of the condo unit. Typically, associations do not want their members to make any changes that may have a negative structural or aesthetic impact on the community as a whole. This is important for owners to understand, as it is a right that they are giving up to the HOA as their restrictions and rules must be followed.

The Board

The board has to account for any actions that are taken and all extraordinary expenses must be verified and explained. Extraordinary expenses typically include capital improvements, such as a new clubhouse or pool area. Of course, the board can make repairs to the old pool; however, the board typically has to get approval from the owners to make significant improvements.

Board responsibilities will depend on how the common areas are defined within the master deed, as well as the community layout. Generally, the board will be responsible for managing and maintaining the common areas, as well as making sure those areas are properly insured. Unit owners, on the other hand, are generally responsible for all that is contained within the four walls of the unit, as well as anything that exclusively serves the unit (like a balcony or patio).

However, each Association’s rules are different and the definition of what encompasses a Unit or a Common Area may differ. Thus, it is important to interpret the master deed and by-laws correctly so as to avoid in potential complaints and/or litigation.

Condominiums and Homeowner Associations appeal to many people; however, it is important for everyone to know and understand how one’s rights may be affected. When transitioning from a single-family home to a condo, the owner may not realize that some of the freedoms enjoyed in the single-family home will not be included in the community association, and owners tend to give up a number of rights for the overall good of the community.

Likewise, managers and board members should keep in mind that any actions they take will likely have a direct impact on an owner, and as such, they must be prepared and willing to justify any and all actions taken.

If you have questions related to the rights and rules associated with condo units, including, but not limited to interpretation of a master deed or by-law in New Jersey or New York, contact Griffin Alexander today.

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