Category: Condo

Can I Rent That Condo?

Not everyone wants to actually own a unit in a condominium complex which is why some purchasers buy units as investment properties. The practice has become widespread enough to become a major problem for many condominium associations. To understand the scope of the problem, you need to understand how the secondary mortgage market operates.

The secondary mortgage market is the place where primary mortgage lenders sell the mortgages they underwrite to obtain funds to originate other new loans. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are secondary mortgage lenders who originate a large number of condominium loans for purchase and refinance. They impose restrictions on the number of investor units in a condominium association. Usually no more than 40 or 50 percent of the units can be investment properties available for renting. If an association goes beyond these limitations, new purchasers as well as unit owners wishing to refinance find it difficult to get a mortgage from these lenders.

That’s one of the reasons why you need to check that the unit you are contemplating renting is a legitimate rental property under the condo association’s governing documents. They spell out the policy regarding renting. If the governing documents contain no rental restrictions, then owners have the right to rent their units at will.  However, some governing documents may allow unit owners to rent, but they must do so for a minimum period. That means you must rent the unit for a specific period of time like a year. This restriction is usually intended to prevent short-term rentals resulting in a revolving door of tenants. If there are specific restrictions allowing the board to make reasonable rules and regulations regarding rental issues; these rules cannot violate any state or federal statutes.

The importance of determining the legitimacy of the rental unit is also imperative in terms of safeguarding your rights as a tenant. There are two areas of major concern, rent increases and unlawful eviction. Your landlord may increase your rent, but the increase must be “fair and equitable.” If you are legitimately renting and you think that the rent increase is not fair and equitable, you can file a complaint with the local governing body that handles rent complaints.

The other concern is protection from unjust eviction. The “Just Cause” law protects tenants who live in a building or complex, which has at least five dwelling units. It says that your landlord can only evict you for certain reasons:


  • Nonpayment of rent
  • Refusing to agree to a “fair and equitable” rent increase
  • Not following rules and regulations of the building
  • Not following the provisions of the lease
  • Not meeting obligations toward the property such as protecting the property from being damaged, interfering with the neighbors’ peaceful enjoyment of the property; or failing to keep your unit clean and safe
  • The apartment is being permanently removed from the housing market
  • Your landlord plans to use the apartment as his/her own permanent residence


What Do I Own As a Condo Unit Owner?

The term “condominium” in real estate law refers to a large complex that is divided into individual units and sold. When a purchaser buys one of the units in the complex, they enter into a dual ownership situation. The first type of ownership is the acquisition of individual and absolute title to the particular space their unit occupies. That means that they own the area formed by the walls, floor and ceiling of their unit and everything inside including interior partitions, cabinets, appliances and fixtures. They technically do not own the land. However, their ownership of their individual unit is as complete and absolute as a homeowner’s ownership of the house that they buy. They have title to their unit just as they would if they had purchased a single-family home. Additionally, they have the same legal status as a single-family homeowner.

A title search is performed when someone purchases a condominium, just as it is when someone buys a house. This search will disclose any problems with the title of the unit along with any liens against the condominium building or the complex itself. Once the title search is complete and there are no problems, the purchaser receives a deed to their unit.

Because ownership is in the individual unit, the purchaser needs to be sure that the location of his/her unit is precisely and accurately described in terms of space. The physical boundaries of the unit must be pinpointed with the same accuracy that locates a piece of land and distinguishes it from all other pieces of land.

This description is arrived at by dividing, measuring and locating the unit in three-dimensional terms so that it cannot be confused with any other unit space. The legal ramifications of this description are significant. The description safeguards the purchaser from involvement in the interests or obligations of owners of other units in the condominium. The description is also fundamental in obtaining a mortgage and disposing of the unit through sale or by bequeath.

The second type of ownership is an undivided interest in all of the common parts of the property, such as the main walls, roofs, halls, lobbies, stairways as well as the land. This ownership is held collectively with all other unit owners in the condominium. The condominium management controls these common properties. Management is usually made up of a board of unit owners who manage the day- today operations of the complex like garbage collection, landscaping and snow removal.

Because of the shared ownership of common areas, the unit owner has to abide by the legal documents, which govern the association. These documents are known as the Declaration and the By-laws. The Declaration delineates the percentage interest that each unit has in the association. That percentage determines the unit owner’s voting rights and payment obligations.

The By-laws spell out board member qualifications, how the board administers policies and how it oversees the maintenance and administration of the association. The by-laws will also include the rules about meetings, voting, proxies, budget, assessments, insurance coverage, and restrictions on the use of the units and the common areas.

Bearing the Risks of Condo Ownership

Living in a condo can be risky business if you fail to discover where you are vulnerable so that you can remove or at least lessen your liability.  As always, any liability assessment starts with the condo association’s master policy.

There are four basic types of risks that associations must protect themselves against. The first is property loss, which means physical property as well as intellectual property such as legalities of the association’s operations. The second is liability resulting from a person or legal entity filing a claim against the association. The third is any unplanned loss of revenue or increase in expenses in an accounting period, and the fourth is losses resulting from the inability of an association employee or board member to continue in their current capacity.

In order to manage the risk associated with these losses, condo associations generally have master policies that include:

  • General Liability – for claims of bodily injury or property damage
  • Workers’ Compensation and Employer’s Liability – coverage of employees against injury while they are working
  • Directors & Officers – to cover claims of negligence or malfeasance by association leaders
  • Fidelity Bond – for claims of misappropriation of association funds

These policies can be written separately, but they usually are combined into one umbrella policy.

As a unit owner, you need a personal policy to cover personal property. Your policy is typically written on Form HO-6. The liability coverage on Form HO-6 is similar to other homeowner’s policies, but the property coverage is not.

Form HO-6 covers your personal property, as well as improvements, additions, and private ownership spaces such as balconies, private entranceways and private garages. However, the policy only covers physical damage to property if it is caused by a named peril that is specified in the policy. Named perils are standard and include events such as fire, lightning, storm, explosion, riot, aircraft, smoke, vandalism, theft, and broken glass.

Your personal property is not covered for damage resulting from perils listed in the exclusions section of your policy. These usually include damage that occurs from enforcement of building codes, earthquakes, floods, power failures, neglect, war, nuclear hazard or intentional acts of destruction.

As the condo unit owner you also have to be vigilant about property loss in the master policy coverage.  In general, a condo association’s master insurance policy will require you to share a part of the loss if the building is damaged by fire, lightning, vandalism or the weight of ice or snow. Remember, as the common owner of shared spaces, you assume the liability connected with damage to those shared spaces. Your personal insurance coverage will provide you some relief from this debt, but be advised that you may want to consider augmenting it. That’s because a policy written on Form HO-6 entitles you to collect up to $1,000 for loss assessments charged to you by the condo association. Be aware that Form HO-6 has a unique feature in this regard. When a loss is covered by both the condominium’s master insurance policy and your individual policy, your homeowner’s insurance will only pay for the balance of the loss that remains after the master insurance policy pays 100 percent of its limit.

Understanding the features of your personal coverage as well as the master policy will help you know your rights and responsibilities in the event it becomes necessary to collect on your coverage.