Many owners in homeowner associations are often confused about common elements. In addition, governing documents can sometimes be vague in defining common elements, limited common elements and what residents own. This lack of definition further complicates the issue and fosters conflict within the community, so ensuring that your HOA Board spells everything out about common elements is critical.
HOAs have common elements for which the association is responsible for maintaining. These elements include swimming pools, streets, clubhouse, landscaping and other common areas that are available to all owners. The definition of these common elements is rarely misunderstood. In fact, many owners choose a community because it has some or all of the common elements they desire.
However, most communities also have limited common elements, and this area creates confusion. A limited common element is something that is not available to all owners. Some examples could be stairways, hallways, decks, and entry doors that are accessible only to some owners. There can be differences in how associations manage limited common elements, and this makes it even more difficult to understand.
For example, a deck for an individual unit is usually a limited common element. Thus, the HOA may regulate what can be placed on the deck, color, and material while the unit owner is responsible for the actual maintenance. A different association may decide that they want complete responsibility for decks because they feel it will lead to a more consistent appearance, so the association is responsible for maintenance instead of the unit owner.
Multiple buildings in an association can blur the lines of responsibility even more. Only the owners in one building instead of the entire community may share limited common elements. For example, only the owners in a specific building share a hallway. In this situation, the HOA may choose to assess only those unit owners for maintenance repairs.
It’s important that whatever decision is made is spelled out clearly in the association’s governing documents to avoid future confusion. Outlining the reasons and justification for each category of common elements makes it easier for the Board to define consistent areas of responsibility.
As with most things in an association, knowing who’s responsible for handling tasks is everybody’s job—not just the Board or manager’s. Do your owners know the limited common elements and maintenance responsibility in your community? Creating a clear understanding of responsibility is much easier before there’s conflict. Communicate today for a smoother tomorrow.