For example, let’s examine the replacement of the unit’s windows. Pursuant to the maintenance obligations in the declaration of condominium, the unit owner is responsible to maintain, repair, and replace all parts of the unit and the fixtures and equipment of the unit, including windows. However, the declaration of condominium also prohibits the unit owner from changing the exterior of the condominium building in any way whatsoever. So, what is this unit owner to do when it comes time to replace the unit’s windows? How can the owner change the window, which requires bringing it up to current building code requirements, where it would result in a change to the exterior of the building?
The Department of Business and Professional Regulation, Division of Florida Condominiums, Timeshares, and Mobile Homes (the “Division”) has addressed this particular scenario, and other similar scenarios, in multiple arbitration cases. While the arbitration decisions promulgated by Division are not binding precedent per se (meaning that other arbitrators or courts do not have to decide similarly when presiding over subsequent cases with similar issues or facts), such arbitration decisions are persuasive and relied upon for guidance.
In Ellis v. Phoenix Towers Condominium Association, Inc., Arb. Case No. 00-1236, Summary Final Order (October 27, 2000), a group of unit owners, which included Ellis, sought to have the association, Phoenix Towers Condominium Association, Inc., replace its windows that were damaged as a result of concrete restoration performed by the association. The association’s declaration of condominium did not provide whether the windows were conclusively part of the unit and therefore the responsibility of the unit owner to maintain, repair, and replace. The association’s declaration of condominium did provide, however, that the unit owner is responsible for “[t]o maintain in good condition and repair his unit… and to maintain and repair the fixtures and equipment therein, which includes but is not limited to the following, where applicable:… windows…” However, the association’s declaration of condominium also provided that the unit owner cannot “…make alterations, decorations, repair, replacement or change of the common elements, or to any outside or exterior portion of the building(s).” The arbitrator in this case determined that the provision prohibiting unit owners from replacing or changing the exterior of the building and the provision regarding the unit owner’s responsibility to replace a window to the unit were in direct conflict with one another. Therefore, the arbitrator decided, “[a]n owner cannot be held responsible for replacing a window to his unit when that owner is precluded from replacing or changing any outside or exterior portion of the building [without regard to] whether or not it is a part of the common elements or his unit.”
While the maintenance, repair, and replacement of the exterior of the condominium buildings were found to be the responsibility of the association in the above case, even where such obligation was expressly that of the unit owner, there are instances where portions of the exterior of the condominium building are the responsibility of the unit owner, namely, where the unit owner has altered the common elements or limited common elements (such as the balcony), which are typically the obligation of the condominium association to maintain, repair, and replace. The Division has addressed this particular scenario in multiple arbitration cases, as well, and has found that the unit owner is responsible to maintain, repair, and replace those components that the unit owner altered – that is, unless the governing documents say otherwise or there is an written agreement for the association to take up such responsibility.
In Continental Towers, Inc. v. Nassif, Arb. Case No. 99-0866, Summary Final Order (November 24, 1999), the condominium association, Continental Towers, Inc., needed to conduct concrete restoration, waterproofing, and other repairs to the unit owners’ balconies. However, Nassif refused to allow the association access to his unit’s balcony to remove its tile flooring in order to effectuate those repairs. In relevant part, Nassif argued that that the association “accepted the tiles as a modification of the common elements or limited common elements and therefore assumed responsibility for maintenance of it” and demanded that the association replace the balcony’s tile. The arbitrator in this case provided and concluded, in pertinent part, that:
“The unit owner is responsible for the removal and replacement of unit owner installed additions to the common elements or limited common elements that are necessitated by the association’s maintenance efforts unless there is a specific agreement by the association, or a provision of the documents, providing that the association will be responsible for the removal and replacement of such improvements. [citation omitted] This is true even where the association may have approved or acquiesced to the addition. As noted by the arbitrator in Carriage House, in the absence of an agreement between the parties or a controlling provision of the documents, ‘it cannot be said from the mere fact of association permission that the association has assumed the perpetual obligation to remove and replace the personal property when necessary to repair and replace the common elements.’… Since… the tile was not part of the original construction, the unit owners are responsible for its removal and replacement.”
Therefore, Nassif was required to remove the balcony tiles so that the association could conduct its repairs and was then responsible to replace the tiles once the repairs were completed.
Again, the arbitration decisions of the Division are specific to the parties and facts presented and are not binding precedent. Actually, these type of issues are one of the most confusing and convoluted parts of the entire body of condominium association law. So, if your association has questions regarding the maintenance and repair obligations and interpretation of your condominium association’s governing documents, you should contact a competent community association attorney for legal guidance.
Jeffrey Rembaum, Esq. of Kaye, Bender, Rembaum attorneys at law, legal practice consists of representation of condominium, homeowner, commercial and mobile home park associations, as well as exclusive country club communities and the developers who build them. He is a regular columnist for The Condo News, a biweekly publication and was inducted into the 2012, 2013 & 2014 Florida Super Lawyers. He can be reached at 561-241-4462.