Who owns the walls in my condo, me or the condo association
Sep 2011 03

Owning a condominium is different from owning a single-family home. When you own a single-family home, pretty much anything that happens on your plot of land is yours to decide. In a condo, however, what you can and can’t do is not always so clear cut.

A recent legal decision in Massachusetts illustrates this all to well. According to a post on the Universal Hub website, the Massachusetts Appeal Court ruled that owners of a condo in Charlestown could remove an interior wall between their kitchen and living room but would be responsible for replacing the wall (presumably, at their own cost) should the condo association demand it in the future.

To those who don’t own a condo, this might seem ridiculous. How, they might ask, is it possible that a condo association can dictate what happens inside your own home?

Well, the reason is, the condo docs rule what is and what isn’t “common areas”; meaning, what does the building own and what do the individual unit owners own. The wall in question was apparently originally designed to hold “common elements (such as the pipes and ducts that the kitchen/living room wall in fact contains)”. Since the building might need to put pipes and ducts in there at some point, the owners can’t just do what they want.

It’s a peculiarity of condo ownership. Most of the time, you’ll find that owning a condo is no different from owning a single-family home. However, it’s a case of buyer beware. Read the condominium association’s condo docs prior to buying a home. Review it with a lawyer. Understand it: can you own pets, can you smoke inside your unit, can you put a roof deck on, can you have a waterbed, can you put your clothes out to dry, can you have different-colored window shades (seriously).

Only in extreme cases would something like this end up in court. You don’t want it to be you.

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