Condos need maintenance …

Everything built by man requires some maintenance at some point.

Even so-called maintenance-free homes require some attention. So when making the transition from renting to buying, one aspect of home ownership that must be considered carefully is maintenance.

Renters enjoy few advantages over buyers, but one benefit of renting is that in most cases renters needn’t worry about the expense of maintaining a property. Many first time buyers aren’t ready to take on the hassles and expenses of yard work, gutter cleaning, painting and so on, and for this reason condos are a viable and interesting alternative.

In the case of a condo, maintenance can be separated into two categories: owner’s responsibilities and association responsibilities.

These exact nature of these duties and responsibilities will vary from condo to condo, but there are a few rules of thumb. For example, certain retirement communities provide maid service as part of the condo, but most often the condo owner is responsible for cleaning his own unit.

In most cases, the condo owner must clean the condo interior, including all windows which are reachable from the interior. The condo owner must clean of his or her private balcony or patio. Most renters are accustomed to this type of arrangement already.

Unlike renters, condo owners own the appliances in the unit. Thus, the condo owner cleans and maintains all the appliances, but the condo owner also pays for repairs and replacements as needed. A condo owner
has the power to pick his own appliances, but with that benefit comes the duty of maintaining that unit.

In most older condos, the association supplies the heating and cooling to the unit, and the condo owner owns the convector or radiator (heat transfer appliance) in the unit. In new condos, the owner typically owns the HVAC (heat pump / air conditioner) that heats and cools his unit.

Plumbing and electrical concerns remain for owners of single family homes and townhouses, but in all but a few rare cases the condo owner need only worry about systems that are outside the walls.  For example, the condo owner typically owns the bathroom vanity and the pipes supporting that vanity but not the pipes which supply water and take sewage away from the bathroom. A condo owner owns his kitchen cabinets, but not the electrical wires inside the wall that bring power to his kitchen appliances.

Julie Nesbitt
Relaxing in Old Town

In general, the condominium owner is responsible for his personal space, but the condo association is responsible for all common areas.  This includes maintaining and operating the elevators and outside doors.  In most cases this includes the windows. Most always, the association maintains the lawns, flowers and shrubs. The condo association maintains the roof.

While the owner of a single family home must maintain his own driveway, a condo parking lot is maintained by the condominium association. The parking garage can be private, common, or common with assignments.  If the parking garage is common, with or without assignments, the condo association will clean and maintain the parking. A private garage is the domain of the condominium owner.

Review your docs

Ultimately, you’ll want review your condo documents, charter and by-laws to determine exactly how your condo association interprets its domain.  Rest assured, a condo owner will have more to maintain than a renter, but significantly less responsibility than the owner of a single family residence or townhouse.

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Tenant Duties and Landlord Remedies

If you are considering renting an apartment from a landlord or condominium owner or if you are thinking about leasing your property for rent, it is important that you know both the law and the legal instruments that govern landlord tenant relationships in the Commonwealth of Virginia.

Leases:

First, consider the lease. A lease is the contract that governs a landlord-tenant relationship. In contrast, covenants within a lease are generally independent of the lease itself, where if one party breaches a covenant, the other party may still recover dam¬ages but cannot terminate the landlord-tenant relationship in its entirety. Although not covered herein, the doctrines of actual and constructive eviction and the implied warranty of habitability are exceptions to this general rule. In addition, many states including Virginia have created a statutory exception to this general rule which does allow, however, a landlord to terminate a lease for any nonpayment of rent. Below is a brief discussion of a tenant’s duty regarding the doctrine of waste and other considerations including ordinary wear and tear as they may or may not be contemplated in any given leasehold agreement.

Tenant’s Duty to Repair and the Doctrine of Waste:

A tenant has a duty not to damage (or commit waste on) a leased premises. There are three rules governing waste in a leasehold context, all of which a Landlord may recover for from the tenant in the form of damages should the tenant breach.

1) Voluntary (affirmative) waste results when the tenant intentionally or negligently damages the premises or exploits minerals on the property.

2) Permissive waste occurs when the tenant fails to take reasonable steps to protect the premises from damage from the elements. The tenant is liable for all ordinary repairs, excluding ordinary wear and tear. If the duty is shifted to the landlord (by lease or statute), the tenant has a duty to report deficiencies promptly, and the tenant can assume liability for such deficiencies if not reported in a timely manner pursuant to the lease agreement.

3) Ameliorative waste occurs when the tenant alters the leased property, thereby increasing its value. Generally, the tenant is liable for the cost of restoration. There is a modern exception to this rule, however, which permits a tenant to make this type of change if he is a long-term tenant and the change reflects changes in the neighborhood.

Finally, remember that in the absence of a specific reference to ordinary wear and tear, most repair covenants frequently exclude ordinary wear and tear whereby a Landlord usually remains obligated for certain structural and casualty destruction repairs except for damages caused by the tenant.

A Financial Plan for Your Home

You probably already have a financial plan for yourself in place. Most likely you sat down with an advisor at some point to set up a budget and diversify your investments. Or maybe you did it yourself online or at the dining room table. Either way, smart move.

But what about your home specifically, probably the biggest investment you’ll ever make in your life? Did you really take everything into account: repairs and upgrades, the mortgage, insurance, and taxes? Probably not.

Your house requires a financial plan of its own. Spend a weekend creating one. Once you have a handle on your home’s expenses you can devise a long-term strategy that’ll let you live there for years with maximum enjoyment and minimum anxiety. These are the four central elements you need to address.

The mortgage: Paying it—and then some

Yes, you already shell out a lot for your mortgage, but can you pay more? Even a little extra each month can add up. Let’s say you have $200,000 outstanding principal and a 20-year fixed-rate mortgage at 5%. Your monthly payment is $1,319.91. But if you can manage to pay another $100 a month, you’ll save $14,887 in interest. Run the numbers for yourself.

Alan D. Kahn, a financial planner in Syosset, N.Y., likes the idea of early payoff because lowering debt leaves you free to spend money elsewhere later on. There’s an emotional benefit as well. It can feel awfully good to own your house outright as soon as possible. And don’t fret too much about losing the mortgage interest deduction come tax time. Toward the tail end of the life of a loan most of your payment is going to the principal, not the interest.

Nevertheless, the same extra $100 might also go into a retirement plan every month, or be put aside for the inevitable home repairs (more on those later). Michael Kay, a financial planner in Livingston, N.J., says while a debt-free life may be enormously important to your peace of mind, an extra $1,200 toward your child’s college fund every year may feel even better. It’s about what’s ultimately important to you, both emotionally and financially.

Insurance: Protecting your property

You’ll want homeowners insurance with full replacement coverage in case your house is burned to the ground. This sounds simple, but be careful on the calculation. Remember that you own a house as well as the land on which it sits. So even though you bought your home for $300,000, it may cost only $100,000 to rebuild it. Your policy limits should reflect this.

The differences are regional. Where land is at a premium, like much of Southern California, a higher percentage of the purchase cost is for the property rather than the structure. Where land is cheap, like much of North Dakota, most of the value of a new house is the house itself. Don’t be deceived by shifts in market values. You may have bought a $1.2 million townhouse in Florida during the boom that now may only sell for $600,000. But the replacement cost of the townhouse hasn’t changed much, so you can’t cut insurance costs that way.

Do, however, try to cut costs by asking your insurance agent about discounts. Making structural improvements, such as adding storm shutters, can lead to lower rates. Membership is certain groups, such as AARP or veterans’ organizations, entitles some policyholders to breaks on premiums as well.

Repairs and renovations: By choice or necessity

Throughout the life of your house, you’ll be making two kinds of changes. The first is the fun kind, like a marble floor for the living room. The second is the essential, behind-the-scenes change: a new water heater. You don’t have a choice about when you’ll do the latter, but you can prepare for it financially.

It’s a good idea to have a rainy-day fund. Start with the inspection report you received when you bought the house. Did the inspector indicate that you would need a new roof in five years? A new furnace in 10? Get estimates on what these repairs will cost and start saving. Consider ongoing non-emergency maintenance too. Do you live in New England? Price a snow blower and get bids from plow services. Resist the temptation to take care of everything with home equity loans, which defeat efforts to pay off the mortgage early.

As for the discretionary upgrades, act prudently. Matthew P. Havens, a financial planner in Hingham, Mass., has seen too many people rationalizing lavish upgrades as an investment when they really were lifestyle decisions. According to Remodeling magazine, an upscale major kitchen upgrade, for example, could cost nearly $112,000, but only about 63% of that will be recouped in the home’s resale value. This isn’t to say you shouldn’t upgrade. If you can afford to redo your bathrooms, go ahead. Just don’t confuse your necessary repairs (new oil furnace—about $4,000) with your discretionary upgrades (Viking range—$6,000 and up).

Taxes: (Almost) no way around them

Taxes are an essential part of your home’s financial plan. The bank that holds your mortgage may already handle your real estate taxes with an escrow account. If so the expense is built into your monthly mortgage payment. Check your statements or call the lender. Otherwise create a dedicated fund for property taxes, which can run into the thousands of dollars annually.

You may be able to reduce your tax burden by getting a reassessment. Do your homework first. Are comparable houses taxed less than yours? Ask the local assessor what formula is used to set tax rates. Kay, the New Jersey financial planner, researched and then challenged the assessed value of his own home and got a 15% rollback.

If you’re in a special group, you might get some help from state or local programs. Check around to see what’s available in your area. New York State, for example, has its Star Program for giving senior citizens some relief from school-related property taxes.

Richard J. Koreto is a freelance writer. He has been editor of several professional financial magazines and is the author of “Run It Like a Business,” a practice management book for financial planners. He and his wife own a pre-Civil War house in Rockland County, N.Y.