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Linda Palfi
CNC Properties
47033 Creekside, Calgary, Alberta
P: 403-998-7732
F: 403-592-8002

Condo "fees" are not fees at all


It's unfortunate that we use the word "fees" to describe our monthly contributions to operate the condominium buildings where we live and where each of us own our apartment or townhouse home. The word "fee" means money paid to a third person, usually a professional whom we've retained, such as a lawyer. Yet in condo living there is no third party, but only us, the homeowners. We contribute like members of a family to the cost of operating the shared home; there's really no one else involved.


Using the term "fee" reinforces an us-versus-them mentality, as if the elected Directors of our condo corporations were outsiders who have come to impose on us their unreasonable will. But of course Directors are you and me, or our neighbours, who volunteer time to help run the apartment building or townhouse development where we live. Directors pay the same condo "fees" as everyone else, and if those contributions are raised, they have to pay the increase just like everyone else.


The proper term for what we each pay would be "condominium contribution", but that's a bit of a mouthful. I use it, though, and sometimes diversify to "condo payment", "monthly contribution", or even "share of common expenses", to remind clients that this is not a fee to someone else but our share of the actual cost of operating our building(s).


The feeling that condo contributions are paid to someone else is reinforced by the role of a management firm that a condo corporation hires to help run the development. Although that firm is only an employee of the Board on behalf of all the owners, it comes to represent an outside party. When condo contributions must rise, some condo homeowners blame the management company. In fact, of course, the management company has no authority but only follows the instructions of the condo corporation's elected Board of Directors.


Using the term "condo fee" also sets condo home shoppers up for a narrow view of that expense, simplifying it to "lower must be better". Although there's obviously a limit to what we all want to and should pay, a somewhat higher monthly contribution may mean that a condo development is better run than others, that future capital expenses from new roofs to boilers are funded, and that special-assessment levies will be avoided.


While we'll continue to say "condo fee" as shorthand much of the time, we should all occasionally use another phrase to help make clear that what we put into the collective pot each month is only to pay our own household bills for heat, hot water, janitorial and garden services. Pick one or two of these and make them part of your condominium vocabulary: "condo contribution", "monthly contribution", "share of common expenses" and "common-expenses payment". It's just our money, paying our bills.

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