Understanding the nuances of common area ownership is crucial for effective governance and decision-making. Who owns your common areas isn’t always a straightforward answer, as it depends on whether you reside in a Condominium Association or a Homeowners Association. Let’s delve into the distinctions and implications of common area ownership in Florida residential communities.
Legal Frameworks: COAs vs. HOAs
In Florida, Condominium Associations and Homeowners Associations function under separate legal frameworks. Each falls under a distinct chapter of the Florida Statutes: Chapter 718 governs Condominium Associations, while Chapter 720 pertains to Homeowners Associations. Additionally, both types of associations must adhere to their respective Governing Documents, which are recorded in the county where the community or building is located. Before proceeding further, it’s essential to emphasize that this article does not constitute legal advice, and for specific guidance, it’s crucial to consult a Florida-licensed attorney.
Common Elements vs. Common Areas
One of the fundamental distinctions between these two types of associations lies in their terminologies. The Florida Condominium Act (FS 718) employs the term “common elements,” whereas the Homeowners Association Act (FS 720) refers to “common areas.” This linguistic difference forms the basis of our discussion.
In Condominium Associations, individual unit owners jointly own an undivided share of the common elements. In simpler terms, if you live in a 100-unit condominium building, each unit owner possesses a 1/100th share of all the common elements. This share is inseparable from the ownership of an individual unit, transferring to new owners when the unit changes hands. Common elements in a condominium property typically encompass various aspects, including the building structure and exterior, hallways, lobby, fitness and meeting rooms, elevators, mechanical and electrical rooms, stairs, surrounding grounds, landscaping, parking lots, structures, swimming pools, decks, and other amenities.
On the other hand, HOA communities typically consist of single-family homes, townhouses, and villas, with individual owners having sole ownership of their residences.
Since Homeowners Association common areas are owned by the association’s corporation, individual owners have a degree of insulation from certain legal and financial issues that might affect condominium owners. Common areas in HOAs can encompass streets, sidewalks, clubhouses, maintenance buildings, landscaping in common areas and along streets, guardhouses, gates, and community facilities like swimming pools and recreation areas.
Board Authority and Owner Rights
The distinction in ownership of common areas significantly influences various aspects, including voting procedures, board authority, financial reserves, maintenance responsibilities, and decision-making processes.
In Condominium Associations where owners jointly own common elements, there is a greater need for oversight and protection to safeguard the legal and financial interests of individual unit owners. They have more input and voting rights on how common elements are managed and maintained, especially concerning association spending.
In contrast, Homeowners Associations, where the association’s corporation owns common areas, provide the board of directors with more authority to make decisions independently regarding maintenance, repairs, upgrades, and additions to these areas.
It’s important to note that not all matters concerning common elements or areas are subject to owner votes. Boards of directors are elected to manage the association’s business, and they can make certain decisions without seeking owner approval. Each association varies, however, and it’s always a good practice to check your association’s governing documents.