Dr. HOA,

I live in a townhome community, and for the past eight years, my HOA has failed to maintain the exterior of the units. As a result, many owners units have become damaged by dry rot.

Recently, due to financial issues, the HOA changed the rules making all dry rot repair to the exterior of the buildings a homeowner’s responsibility instead of an HOA responsibility. I can accept responsibility, albeit reluctantly, to avoid a special assessment, but I just received notice that the HOA is planning to paint the buildings, however no primer will be applied and they are only planning one coat of paint.

Do I have the right to primer my unit and apply a second coat of paint at my cost? My HOA is telling me no.

— Ethan L.

Hello Ethan,

Living in a condominium or townhome community offers many advantages, including a “low-maintenance lifestyle;” however, without a strong association and board of directors, oftentimes regular preventative maintenance is neglected or sacrificed to keep assessments artificially deflated.

Over time, owners may become irritated when they begin to see maintenance deficiencies and grow increasingly aggravated to learn that condominium and townhome owners are limited in terms of what they are permitted to do when it comes to community maintenance and improvements.

I am not familiar with your community-specific governing documents, which should identify owner verses association responsibilities, so I must address your question in general terms.

I will assume that your association is a condominium community, which would include most townhomes, whereby residents own their units and have an undivided interest in all common area elements.

As an owner in a townhome community it is important to remember that although you own your individual townhome unit, the association owns the buildings, which are considered common areas.

Every homeowner within an association has an undivided interest in all common areas, including association buildings. In other words, if there are ten units in your community, each owner has a one-tenth ownership interest in all of the buildings.

Although owners have exclusive use rights of their unit and associated airspace, they do not have the authority or the right to make any improvements or alterations to the association common areas. Only the association may perform work on common area buildings.

It concerns me that your association attempted to assign maintenance responsibilities for repairing the buildings’ exterior dry rot damage to the association’s individual homeowners.

Not only does the association not have the right to assign maintenance responsibilities of common areas, the owners do not have the right to make the repairs or improvements, even if they are agreeable.

Although it is generous of you to offer to prime and add a second coat of paint to your building, this work would need to be approved and performed by the association.

I often meet with associations that have been poorly managed and maintained over the years and are facing assessment increases and/or special assessments to repair and replace neglected common area elements. Unfortunately, many who purchase within condominium or townhome communities do so to take advantage of the “low maintenance lifestyle,” only to learn years later that the association neglected to maintain the common areas and significant, costly repairs are necessary.

Townhome and condominium living can be a wonderful experience, free from many of the expensive, maintenance-intensive chores associated with owning a single family home, but it is important that owners are engaged and provide oversight to ensure that the association is conducting regular inspections of common areas and performing preventative maintenance as necessary.

Homeowners who prefer a more hands-on role with regards to maintenance and improvements are encouraged to run for the board of directors or volunteer to join a committee responsible for the oversight of long-term community maintenance. If such a committee does not exist, offer to chair a maintenance committee. Associations typically welcome owners interested in volunteering their time for the betterment of the community and committees provide owners seeking a more active role the ability to become involved.

One Comment

  1. June 2, 2012 at 3:19 pm

    I often see HOA’s trying to put the maintenance responsibility onto owners, in a short sighted approach to “saving” money and keeping dues artificially low.
    My end of HOA maintenance is decks over living spaces. These decks should be considered roofs first, then a deck as the deck is keeping the living areas below dry, whether it’s “only” the garage of a living room or bedroom, it’s still meant to stay dry.

    Leaving maintenance to owners is foolish-take for example a complex with 100 decks of average size. It my cost $250-300 each to inspect, clean and repair and repaint…when 100 decks at a time are being done.

    An individual owner, with one deck to be cleaned and repaired and inspected is probably going to cost in the neighborhood of $800-1000.00.

    Bulk purchasing and repairs costs far less…and when an owner fails to maintain their deck, usually the CCRs were rewritten so poorly, the HOA gets stuck with the repair bills.

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