Home ownership

Condominium ownership – what do I own and what are my rights?

Want to paint your balcony railings red? You'll need the permission of the condominium owners’ association to change the external appearance of the building. Source: iStock / nikada

When you buy an apartment in a building, you are also purchasing a share of the plot of land and of the communal areas outside your own four walls. This ownership comes with rights and obligations.

Owing to a lack of space, it’s virtually no longer possible to build detached, single-family dwellings in many places. The alternative is condominium ownership, either through the construction of new buildings or the conversion of older apartment buildings to create freehold apartments. 

What is condominium ownership?

Condominium ownership is a special type of co-ownership. When you purchase an apartment, you acquire a share of the building and/or land at the same time. This share is recorded in the land register, and is important for determining the distribution of costs.

Ownership, exclusive rights and rights of special use

As the owner of the property, you have free access to your own apartment and any rooms that belong to it, such as a cellar or designated attic space. You are also allowed to make any alterations to these areas. However, this “exclusive right” ends at the door of the apartment, the windows and the balcony railings. Any communal property may only be used or altered with the consent of the other co-owners. This communal property includes:

  • Façade
  • Staircase
  • Front door of the building
  • Garden seating area
  • Green spaces
  • Roof terrace

Would you like exclusive use of particular areas or rooms? If so, you can apply for a right of special use. The relevant area or room remains the property of the condominium owners’ association – but you have sole use of it. However, the owners’ association may decide that you are also solely responsible for the upkeep of the area or room. 

The majority vote applies

The condominium owners decide jointly on the use of and changes to communal rooms and areas. This is usually done at condominium owners’ association meetings, which are organized regularly by the administrator. For structural changes to any communal part of the building, the agreement of the majority of condominium owners is required. This also includes such alterations as erecting a canopy or satellite dish on the balcony. If the owners’ association votes to go ahead with a particular conversion, renovation or purchase, all parties are obliged to pay their share. Similarly, all condominium owners must also share the cost of operating and maintaining communal areas and equipment such as the heating system or lift.

In for a penny, in for a pound – check existing decisions and rules

So before you buy: always check what decisions have already been made by the condominium owners – because new owners are automatically bound by these decisions and will have to pay their share. There are, however, some limits in place to hold back over-eager renovators: in order for the decision to make structural changes to be carried, a certain proportion of condominium owners must vote in favour. This proportion depends on the type of proposed change: is it necessary, useful or a luxury? These and other rulings are set out in the condominium owners’ association regulations. Study them carefully before you buy the apartment. 

As a condominium owner, what belongs to me?

Within your own apartment, you are free to do whatever you like. You can even move your internal walls to divide your home up as you wish – as long as you do not touch load-bearing walls, which are common property. Condominium owners also have exclusive rights over internal plasterwork and power cables. By contrast, the law states that the following property is always communally owned:

  • Land: courtyards, gardens, car parking spaces, outdoor seating areas, green areas, etc.
  • Parts of the building vital to its structure: foundations, load-bearing walls, retaining and enclosing walls, load-bearing ceilings, roof, etc.
  • Building elements that determine the external appearance of the building: external plasterwork, windows, window grilles, roller shutters, canopies, external balcony facings or railings, etc.
  • Communal fittings and equipment: front door to block, stairways, lifts, central heating, washing and drying rooms, communal rooms (e.g. hobby rooms), communal aerials, all supply and disposal pipes (up to connection leading into individual homes), etc.

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