The word condominium refers to a building or residential complex, wherein the units of property, such as apartments, are owned by individuals, and the common areas of the property, like the hallways, grounds, other public amenities and the building itself, are jointly owned and maintained by the unit owners.
Condominiums represent a large sector of the Florida real estate market; yet new owners are often not educated about the important elements that are integral to buying and living in a condo in Florida. Condos are most commonly known for being residential, but they can also be commercial or a mixture of both. Each unit/property/home is individually owned but it is purchased with communal rights to use, and pay for, the surrounding areas and grounds, amenities and facilities, plus the upkeep. Condo Associations are NON PROFIT and for the benefit of all owners.
There are many aspects to consider when choosing the right condominium unit, as different properties are right for different personal preferences or budgets. You should properly identifying how and when you intend to use the condo now and in the future; seriously deciding on a whether the unit or building is for residential or second home use, investment, for long-term rentals, or a residential or second home that could be rented out during peak periods. Many condominiums have restrictions on use and you should be sure the building you chose meets the criteria for use you have defined.
When you are buying a condo in Florida, you are required by law to receive a copy of the Declaration of the Condominium or “condo docs” as they are more commonly known – this is mandatory regardless of whether you are buying a resale condo, key-ready condo or a pre-construction condo. These condo docs are registered with the State and can be over 500 pages in length.
The condo docs will contain lots of specific information, including details about the developer, the formation of the Home Owners Association (HOA) and related fees, plans of the buildings, floor plans for each unit and the all important Rules and Regulations of the condominium.
Some Important information that you look for in the docs or ask for from the Condo Association:
•What exactly are your ownership and voting rights within the association?
•What restrictions are in place regarding the common elements and your unit?
•Is there planning in place for further units to be constructed? If so, how many and when?
•Does the developer have any options NOT to complete any of the facilities or amenities?
•Is there a history of resident complaints at the condominium?
•Is the Condominium Association currently involved in any form of litigation?
•Does the Condominium Association have reserved funds set aside for maintenance projects and future capital expenditures?
•Can you rent or sell your condo without restrictions?
•Are there any restrictions regarding family and friends using, staying with, or occupying the unit?
When buying a new , key ready or pre-construction condos, you are given, by law, 15 days to review and study the condo docs. Buyers of resale condos are given 3 days to do the same. If you come across anything within the condo docs that you do not want to abide by you have the right to rescind on the purchase contract, without penalty, as long as it is done within the stipulated contractual time frames.
Many buyers will receive a copy of the condo docs, see how many pages there are and choose not to read them. This can be reckless as information regarding voting rights and rules and bylaws can be very important and often have a direct affect on how you can live in and use the condo.
In Florida, all condominiums are provided with a framework of Florida Statutes in Chapter 718. All owners of condos must pay assessments or maintenance fees which will cover the expenses for the common areas. They must also abide by the Association Rules. If, as a condo owner in Florida, you do not pay your maintenance fees, a lien can be placed on your unit and if your debts are not paid it can lead to foreclosure and eviction.
The condominium association is responsible for the maintenance, protection and repair of ALL amenities and facilities that are integral to the condominium. This will include swimming pools, tennis courts, elevators, landscaping, security, etc.
New condominiums will have a Board of Directors appointed by the developer, but this will normally be handed over to the actual owners once an election has taken place amongst the owners.
If you are buying a new or pre construction condo, the developer is required to provide ALL buyers with a prospectus if the condominium will have more than 20 units or if it is to be part of a larger group of residential condos which will be “served by property “ to be utilized in common, by condo owners of more than 20 units. This prospectus should summarize the main points of the condo docs and it is essential that you read AND understand all of the restrictions AND obligations that come with becoming and owner of the Condominium Association.
If you’re considering buying a condominium in Florida I recommend that you not only read the condo docs but also the following documents prior to writing the contract.
The Declaration of Condominium is the most important document of all the condo docs, because this is the one that actually “creates” the condominium and is recorded in the local county official records. This Declaration of Condominium will specify the voting rights of owners, membership rights, how the common expenses are divided and a host of other important information
The By Laws will show details of the different types of meetings, their frequency and location and notification periods. The duties of the Association, the Directors and the Officers, procedures for amending the By Laws, usage restrictions and financial reporting will also be included here.
•A copy of the Condominium Association Budget.
This Operating Budget will include estimates regarding all “common” expenses that are to be shared amongst the owners. Any expected future capital expenditure and maintenance projects over $10,000 should be shown here. (i.e. repainting, roof repairs or replacement, window replacement, etc.).
•A list of frequently asked questions – The FAQ’s.
The Florida Condominium Act was amended in 1992 to provide additional disclosure and consumer protection for persons interested in purchasing condominium units. The law was amended to require both developer-controlled associations and unit-owner controlled associations to prepare a “Frequently Asked Questions and Answers” (commonly referred to as a “Q&A Sheet”) to assist and protect potential purchasers. Today, Section 718.504 of the Florida Condominium Act requires the Q&A Sheet to include the following: information regarding
unit owners’ voting rights; unit use restrictions, including restrictions on leasing of a unit; information indicating whether and in what amount the unit owners or the association is obligated to pay rent or land use fees for recreational or other commonly used facilities; a statement identifying the amount of assessment which, pursuant to the budget, would be
levied upon each unit type, exclusive of any special assessments, and which shall further identify the basis upon which assessments are levied, whether monthly, quarterly or otherwise; a statement identifying any court cases in which the association is currently a party of record in which the association may face liability in excess of $100,000; and whether and in what amount the unit owners or the association is obligated to pay rent and land use fees for recreational or other commonly used facilities, and whether membership and recreational facilities association is mandatory and, if so, what fees can be charged per unit type.
The Q&A Sheet must be updated annually and must be kept among the association’s official records. It must be provided to a prospective purchaser of a condominium unit in connection with resales of a unit. Keeping and updating the Q&A sheet is one area where many associations are not diligent, and are often in violation of the law.
•A list of Rules and Regulations.
A few important rules may include, but are not limited to:
•Pet restriction – A limit of the amount of dogs/cats/pets you are permitted within the condo and/or within the grounds. This can also include weight restrictions.
•No motorcycles of any description
•No commercial vehicles allowed overnight. This can also mean trucks and pick ups.
•Maximum of 3 leases per year and/or minimum stay options
•Deed restricted age requirements 55+ Active Adult regarding both ownership, occupancy and visiting family and friends.
•For sale, for rent, real estate and even business signs may not be permitted
•The Articles of Incorporation
The Articles of Incorporation will explain the powers that are granted to the Association and the Board. It will explain the rights of the members, an indemnification clause for Directors and Officers as well as procedure for amending the Articles.
•A copy of the Application to Join the Condominium Association.
Home Owner Association Documents and Condominium Documents are normally available from the County Clerk’s Office; many of them are now offering an online service. For further and more in-depth information about condo docs and Home Owner Associations, take look at http://www.myFlorida.com/dbpr/lsc/index.html