Common elements aren’t a common responsibility
Purchasing a condominium is a bit of a two-for-one deal. While you’re buying a unit that has specific physical boundaries, you’re also becoming part owner of amenities that could range from fitness facilities, rooftop terraces and party rooms to less glamourous elements such as heating systems, parking garages and elevators. These are the ‘common elements’ of your condo project. While you are entitled to use them (or at least benefit from them), management of the common elements – and their warranty – is the responsibility of the condominium corporation.
The warranty on your unit begins when your unit is ready for occupancy. The common elements warranty coverage doesn’t begin until the building is finished and the declaration and description for the project is registered by the developer at the local land registry office.
So, what are the declaration and description? They are documents that outline important details for condo owners, such as the boundaries, designated use and proportion of common expenses allocated to the unit, as well as repair and maintenance obligations. If you want to know exactly where your unit ends and the common elements begin, check the declaration.
Although common elements often provide a lot of marketing flash to help drive sales, they can be some of the last things finished in your project. If, for example, you’ve bought a condo on a lower floor in a highrise, you might be among the first to move in – before the common elements have been completed. This means that you might have to wait a while to use that chic party room or luxurious pool that helped sell you on the project in the first place.
Under the Ontario New Home Warranties Plan Act, the condominium corporation is the ‘owner’ of the common elements of the project. This includes “exclusive use” common elements – things such as your balcony or your backyard – that no one but you gets to use. Unlike unit owners who fill out and submit their own warranty forms for issues in their units, the Condominium Act requires that the condo corporation hire a consultant to prepare a performance audit identifying any deficiencies in the common elements, such as defects in workmanship or Ontario Building Code violations. The performance audit generally includes surveys in which unit owners can report issues they’ve observed in the common elements. The condo corporation will submit the performance audit to Tarion as a warranty claim for the common elements.
The condo corporation will also appoint a designate — often the condominium manager — to work with Tarion and the vendor to resolve deficiencies reported in the audit.
While you as a unit owner do not get involved in the warranty claims process for common elements, you do have a role to play in protecting these shared amenities and ensuring that the warranty coverage on them stays intact. Here are a few examples of what’s not covered by the warranty:
- Damage caused by unit owners or visitors;
- Alterations, deletions or additions made by a unit owner or the condo corporation;
- Damage resulting from improper maintenance by unit owners or the condo corporation.
So if you’re inviting the high school rugby team over for a post-championship celebration, make sure the party room doesn’t become a casualty. Or if you’re planning to do work on any of your exclusive-use common elements – adding a garden to your balcony, for example – notify your condo corporation and obtain permission from them to undertake it.
Common elements are for the common benefit of all. If there are issues, be sure to report them to your condominium manager for them to report to Tarion within their warranty timelines. And if you have any questions about common elements coverage, contact Tarion at 1.877.9TARION or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Howard Bogach is president and CEO of Tarion Warranty Corp., a private corporation established to protect the rights of new homebuyers and to regulate new home builders. tarion.com