The Master Deed and the Unit Deed
If you are new to condominium living, making yourself familiar with the unit deed, master deed, by-laws, rules and regulations will make your living experience more comfortable and harmonious.
Your seller should provide you with these documents at the time of your closing. If for some reason you do not have copies of these standard sets of documents, your management company or office should be able to provide you with copies for a nominal copying fee.
The master deed divides a single property into individually owned units, provides a master floor plan, defines common areas, and lists the rights and obligations of all unit owners. The by-laws are the rules and procedures used for governing the condominium association.
The individual deed is the document that allows a single condo unit to be transferred from its current owner to a new owner.
From time to time, the board of trustees finds it necessary to change rules and regulations to adapt and evolve to different situations as they arise in the normal course of events. For that reason, your seller may not have the most recent rules and regulations as amended, and therefore your condo association should automatically provide the latest rules and regulations as they exist at the time of your moving into your unit.
Who are the Board of Trustees? The board of trustees typically consists of three to nine members, who represent the condominium association and serve for a limited term usually between 1-3 years. Trustees are voted in by unit owners (Your unit vote is determined and tallied by your unit common area interest percentage). They meet typically once a month. Meetings are open to anyone who wishes to observe and listen in; however, participation is prohibited. Anyone can run for office of trustee in an election when a position becomes available. Association newsletters usually announce trustee elections and available positions. In some cases trustee terms of office are staggered. For example, it could be that three trustees are elected and start two year terms on even years (ie: 2022-2023) and two trustees are elective and start two-year terms in odd years (2023-2024). Elections are often held in the Fall of each year prior to each term. Rules of candidacy are sent to residents who submit their applications in the a month before time frame. The master deed will have detailed information regarding the powers and duties of the board of trustees.
What are the common areas? Common areas are places that are shared by all owners. In a multi level dwelling, they might consist of all the land, the yards, lawns, gardens, driveways, walkways, fences, shafts, foundations, structural columns, girders, beams, elevators, supports, interior walls, interior floors, and ceiling joints, studding, roofs, common walls, and other improvements including balcony railings, exteriors lighting fixtures, water meter rooms, elevator machinery rooms, electricity and telephone rooms, trash rooms, compactor rooms, mail rooms, lobbies, hallways, corridors, atriums, balconies, greenhouses, the security building, outdoor tennis courts, swimming pool, clubhouse, meeting rooms. Storage areas on the ground floor. Though unit balconies and unit storage areas are for exclusive use by one unit owner, they are considered to be "limited" common areas.
Here’s an example of a unit description in a master deed for a multi-level building.
Description of Unit as per a Master Deed: "The designation of each Condominium Unit, a statement of its location, approximate area, number of rooms, the immediate common area to which it has access, and its proportionate interest in the common areas and facilities, are set forth on Schedule A attached hereto and made a part hereof. The boundaries of each of the Units with aspect to the floors, ceilings, walls, doors and windows thereof, are as follows: a. Floors: The plane of the upper surface of the concrete plank floor. b. Ceilings: The plane of the low surface of the ceiling. c. Interior Walls: The plane of the interior surface of the wall studs or furring facing such Unit. d. Exterior Walls, Doors, and Windows: As to walls, the plane of there interior surface of the wall studs or furring facing such Unit; as to doors, the exterior surface thereof: and as to windows, the exterior surface of the glass and of the window frames. Appurtenant to each Unit are the following: The right to use one (1) or more parking spaces on a reserved basis. One storage area in the ground floor of the Building. A terrace or balcony, and as to some Units a greenhouse as described in each Unit Deed."
For an exact description of your specific unit, please refer to your unit deed. Your unit deed also contains the percentage interest of common areas. This percentage is utilized to determine your common area fee assessments as well as your weighted vote when your participation is required for elections and matters regarding official condo association business. (As defined by the condominium laws of the state in which the condominium complex exists.)
Contractors and Maintenance: Owners will want to know who to call for maintenance inside their unit? Afterall, it is the unit owners’ responsibility to contact contractors for inside unit repair work. While management cannot endorse any contractors, it is common practice for an association or management office to provide unit owners with a list of contractors commonly used by owners at their complex -- contractors particularly for carpet cleaning, electrical repairs, garage door clickers, heat/air conditioning, air duct cleaning, plumbing, smoke detectors, door docks, painting, appliance repair.
This is also important because it’s so much better to know that your unit owners are not hiring people who don’t know what they’re doing. Hiring contractors to complete electrical work who are unlicensed and inexperienced or maybe even just outdated, will not only hurt one owner, but could affect everyone in the building. If electrical wires in switches and outlets are back stabbed for example, instead of screwed down, they are a fire hazard, which could not only damage property, but worst of all, hurt people. An outlet has been backstabbed when the white neutral wires and other hot wires (e.g. black, red, blue or yellow) are not screwed down and secured to the outlet, but rather pushed into the small holes at the back of an outlet. This was a common practice (short cut) in the 1970s and 1980s, but now quality electricians avoid it at all cost! Why? Well, it turns out that backstabbed wires have been found to cause electrical fires.
Even though property managers and condo associations can’t mandate or endorse who someone hires inside a unit, and there will be people who will hire sorry contractors or lay people to complete work, and people who will do work themselves, awareness and a good list of qualified contractors brings people steps closer to safety. -D.S. Marquis
Coming up next in this property management and condo living blog series:
D.S. Marquis is the author of the book, Of School and Women.