Demystifying HOA Maintenance and Repair Roles for Residents
Download your Responsibility Matrix
You might think that responsibilities for maintenance, repairs and replacements would be straightforward enough – what’s inside the condo unit is the unit owner’s, and what’s outside is the association’s. However, it’s not always that clear cut in a condo building. Some areas can be confusing to residents.
Even board members sometimes misunderstand how responsibilities are divided. They may pay for jobs that aren’t the condo association’s responsibility or refuse to get work done that is. These errors can lead to unnecessary spending or legal battles for the association.
You can avoid potential issues by taking the proactive measures we describe in this article. These recommendations will help make it easier for residents – as well as current and future board members – to understand who is responsible for which maintenance, repair and replacement jobs in your building.
Become familiar with (and teach residents) condo terminology.
If you want to communicate with someone, the first thing you have to do is to make sure you are speaking a language you both understand. When it comes to condo maintenance, that means that both board members and homeowners need to know the following three terms:
• Units. These are the individually owned portions of the condo that are designated for residential occupancy.
• Common elements. These usually consist of all areas other than the units. Common elements include the areas in and around your building(s) that are designated for use by two or more units. Members of the condo association own these areas together.
• Limited common elements. Sometimes referred to as “exclusive-use elements,” these are elements that are located outside an individual unit but that serve only a single unit. Examples of limited common elements include balconies, shutters, heating and cooling units and awnings.
Know applicable laws and relevant policies in your condo association’s governing documents.
Your HOA’s governing documents should include definitions of “units,” “common elements” and “limited common elements,” as well as spell out maintenance and repair responsibilities for anything not specifically addressed by state law. These documents should be your go-to source for any questions or disputes.
Generally, the unit owner is required to maintain elements that are part of the unit. Under Missouri’s Condominium Property Act, the bylaws of HOAs must provide for maintenance, repair and replacement of the common elements. Under the Kansas Apartment Ownership Act, the bylaws of HOAs may provide for maintenance, repair and replacement of the common areas and facilities.
Where you’ll usually run into problems is with limited common elements. In some cases, or even just for certain elements, the HOA may take responsibility. In other cases, it may be up to the unit owner. It depends on your governing documents.
Amend your governing documents if responsibilities aren’t clear.
Create a “Responsibility Matrix.”
Here’s how to create it:
1. Gather all your maintenance-related paperwork.
2. Enlist the assistance of your property manager and attorney.
Your attorney will help protect your association from unintentional legal exposure because of something you did or didn’t specify. A disclaimer that the matrix does not represent a comprehensive list of all elements or responsibilities is something your attorney will probably recommend including up front.
3. Draft a preliminary list of maintenance items.
4. Specify responsibilities for each item on your list
If unit owners and your association each have responsibility for different aspects of an element on your list, break that element out into multiple items. For example, perhaps the association is responsible for general maintenance of air conditioners, but unit owners are responsible for replacing the filters. You would need to have one item called “Air Conditioner Units” and another one called “Air Conditioner Filters.”
5. Put it all together for a final review.
From your draft chart, create a final matrix. Design it to be easy to read. For example, you might want to use a table template, separate columns with lines and add bright colors. Have your attorney and community manager look over the matrix one last time. Be sure to incorporate any suggestions they make. Also put a version number and a date on the final copy. You are likely to need to make changes or additions over time, and version numbers and dates can make it easier to keep track.
6. Distribute the final Responsibility Matrix to all residents.
If you are working with a good property management company, your condo association should have access to property management software that can streamline the digital distribution of the matrix. You can also ask your community manager to help distribute the hard copies around your property.
Clearly defining everyone’s responsibilities within your condominium association may seem a bit tedious at first. However, you’ll be saving your board a lot of time – and headaches – in the long run. Residents will appreciate knowing their responsibilities, too, and many of the disagreements over property maintenance and repairs will become a thing of the past.