Q&A: Who is Resonsible for Exterior Maintenance?

Q With respect to the exterior of a condominium, who has basic ownership rights and responsibilities for maintenance and repairs—the unit owner or the association? Can a unit owner have an air conditioner installed through a licensed vendor? Can the owner be fined for such actions?

—Concerned Unit Owner

A “The short answer is the association’s legal documents will govern the areas and assets that the association is responsible for and those that the unit owner has responsibility,” says Gerald A. Cassioppi, partner of the Naperville-based law firm of Nyberg and Cassioppi, LLC. “The association’s declaration and rules and regulations should address who is responsible for the “units,” “common elements,” or “limited common elements.”

“A unit means that portion of the condominium designated for separate ownership or occupancy as described in the declaration, such as the interior walls, floors, doors and windows. Generally, common elements mean all portions of the condominium other than the units and serving more than one unit. Limited common elements can mean air conditioners, wire, conduit, bearing wall, awnings, window boxes, doorsteps, decks, balconies, exterior doors and windows, or other fixture, whether located within or outside of the boundaries of a unit, which serve only that unit or are allocated solely to that unit.

“While the association is generally responsible for all common elements, the unit owner provides the maintenance and upkeep of the unit and limited common elements. In most condominium documents, air conditioners and all associated equipment are a limited common element—that is, the unit owner’spersonal responsibility. So the proper installation of a window unit air conditioner would normally be the unit owner’s responsibility.

“Alternatively, the controlling legal documents could provide that air conditioners are part of the common elements or if the installation could damage common elements—the air conditioner installation, repair and maintenance could be under the association’s control. This could result in fines or legal action by the association if the unit owner violates these specifications.

“If the governing documents of the association are unclear or ambiguous about the definition of common elements, units or limited common elements, it is critical that the association’s board of directors establish the criteria for these designations to save time and future resources.”