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

Repair duties are easily assigned


There’s no need for confusion in condominium living over where responsibility changes hands regarding utility lines and mechanical systems. Where there’s legitimate disagreement or lack of clarity over whether a pipe or a chimney is common responsibility or that of just one owner, we should default to it being common property. In other words, the condo corporation should maintain it and repair it.


Problems arise, of course, when everyone is trying to avoid an expense. But expense in housing---condominium apartments, condo townhouses, or single-family homes---is unavoidable. We can pay from our left pocket or our right, but we’ll always pay to maintain our property and to repair mechanical problems. Condominiums by their collective nature require a generous attitude, so that one year I might help pay to fix a pipe that serves your suite, while next year you’ll contribute to fixing one that serves mine.


Let’s look at how confusion can arise, and how easily it’s resolved. When a tap leaks in a condominium apartment or townhouse home, it’s obviously the owner’s personal property and that owner’s job to have it repaired. Likewise, when a drainpipe under a condo homeowner’s sink leaks, it’s the job of that individual owner to repair or replace it. But confusion can arise when a pipe serving a suite is leaking at or just inside the wall, which is---for the purpose of this discussion---common property; be patient and read on.


An example of this issue in townhouse condos is fireplaces; each one obviously serves just one home, but the chimneys from them rise through common-property attics to vent above the common-property roof. Yes, a malfunctioning gas fireplace is the suite owner’s job to repair, but what about that chimney, both for repair and for maintenance, such as sweeping? A long and late-night debate could be held over whether or where responsibility changes hands.


Townhouse condo Boards often try to hold down monthly condo contributions (“fees”) by making each owner responsible for their own chimney maintenance. But remember that the building’s attic, the roof framing and exterior chimneys are all outside each owner’s home, and thus are common property, regardless of whether they serve only one owner. Note that so-called bare-land condo is different legally, but not operationally. The entire house and the lot are owned by the homeowner, but exterior maintenance is usually assigned to the corporation of all the owners.


Here’s a way to sort through these issues: individual owners are responsible “paint-to-paint” within their four walls and ceilings/floors. Condominium Boards are best guided by imagining an incident causing property damage, and an insurance-claim dispute between the condominium corporation and an owner ending up in front of a judge. If you couldn’t sort out responsibility before the fact, the judge certainly won’t be able to afterwards, and the evidence might be charred if the incident was a fire. He’ll likely shrug and say that unless there’s specific evidence of a single owner’s responsibility, the corporation should have ensured that the property was maintained and risk was avoided or reduced. ‘Pay up, Board.


In condominium townhouses, then, these debates are usually over chimneys, while in condo apartment buildings these discussions tend to involve water pipes. Sometimes only your plumber knows for sure. Often times even he can’t sort it out, but just fixes the pipes and issues a bill.  But condominium homeowners don’t need a perfect solution, so don’t split hairs. We need to repair problems and maintain services to our homes.  Don’t feel taken advantage off when your neighbour’s leak is fixed, partially at your expense; next year you’ll enjoy a repair, partially at his expense. Don’t object that your condo contribution will be five bucks more per month so that the corporation can afford to fix these things, as over the long term your personal expense will be reduced by a similar amount. 


Here’s my condo motto for these issues: when in doubt, it’s common property.

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