Living in a condominium in Ontario offers many convenient benefits, such as access to amenities, convenient living conditions, and possibly a sense of community. However, these features come at a price, and it’ll likely cost you some serious cents (or rather, doughy dollars!) toward maintaining the condo’s current and future operations. For this reason, it's crucial for condo owners to understand the financial obligations that come with owning a unit.
Ready to learn more? Read on!
Understanding a Condo Owner's Financial Obligations
Whether you're a potential first-time condo buyer, or an existing owner exploring your rights and responsibilities, it's always a good idea to really understand your financial obligations towards your condo corporation. In this section, we'll explore the typical costs owners can expect, focusing on maintenance fees (including pre-construction fees), special assessments, and responsibility for damages.
📅 Maintenance Fees: Operating and Reserve Funds (+ Developer’s 1st-Year Budget)
Maintenance Fees are monthly payments made by condo owners to cover the overall expenses of the condominium corporation.
These fees are essential for maintaining the common areas, amenities, security, and general upkeep of the building. It's important to note that common areas are different than in-suite areas, which are exclusive to the residents of that private space. Understanding that condos have separate areas (common elements vs. private residences) is essential to understanding Owner vs. Corporation Maintenance obligations... otherwise known as the "who does what?".
So.... how much? The amount of maintenance fees varies as it usually depends on the size of your unit (your allocated % of responsibility towards the corporation) and the budget that your condo’s directors have approved to meet the corporation’s needs. It's important to note that maintenance fees serve two purposes: funding the Operating Fund and the Reserve Fund.
The Operating Fund covers day-to-day expenses (such as cleaning, utilities, landscaping, management fees, etc.).
The Reserve Fund is set aside for major repairs and replacements that may arise in the future, such as roofs, elevators, or HVAC systems. The Reserve Fund ensures that the corporation has sufficient funds to handle these large-scale projects without the need for special assessments.
It’s vital to ensure expenditures are allocated appropriately to the proper fund. Expenses are verified on an annual basis by the corporation’s auditor, who is also obligated to share his comprehensive report with the owners at each Annual General Meeting. This is an excellent opportunity to get to know more about your condo’s financial health (among other things!), so Don’t Ditch Your Condo’s AGM!
Finally, it’s important to understand how Pre-construction Maintenance Fees work. During the pre-construction phase, developers often attract buyers by setting maintenance fees at unrealistically low levels. These can be due to attempting to entice buyers, or due to the rising costs encountered from the time between when the Developer sets the budget to when the building is turned over (or a combination thereof).
While these initial fees may seem appealing, they may not accurately reflect the actual costs of maintaining the building following turn-over. Once the condominium is established and actual operating costs become clearer, the maintenance fees tend to increase significantly in the second year and beyond.
It's not uncommon for post-1st year maintenance fees to rise by 20% or more in the first few years to align with the true expenses of running the building. As a condo owner, it's important not to rely on the Developer’s 1st year maintenance fees. Rather, you should be prepared for these potential increases and factor them into your purchasing decision-making and long-term financial planning.
😱 Special Assessments: An Unpleasant Surprise
💲Paid If/When Needed
Special Assessments are one-time fees charged to condo owners for unexpected or extraordinary expenses that are not covered by the Reserve Fund or regular maintenance fees.
Special assessments typically arise when there is insufficient money in the Reserve Fund to cover the cost of a major repair, renovation, or legal issue. When faced with a Special Assessment, condo owners are obligated to pay their portion of the fee within a particular amount of time.
Sometimes such costs are necessary because of an unexpected situation that requires immediate repair, and other times, it’s due to chronically poor contributions towards the building’s Reserve Fund. Poor planning doesn’t necessarily mean it’s due to malice, rather, often the opposite. In an effort to reduce the financial burden of increased maintenance fees to the ownership, Boards often “save money” by reducing/eliminating contingency funds, or deferring increased contributions to the Reserve Fund.
If you believe that your condo corporation’s financial health is not optimal, it's essential to carefully review the condominium's financial statements and actively participate in regular meetings to stay informed. Owners have several opportunities to understand and question the corporation’s finances, and staying informed may be the best proactive approach you have for being prepared for these unexpected expenses. Staying in the loop with how your condo operations will help you manage your investment (and therefore, finances) more effectively.
💥 Paying for Damages: An Expensive Oops!
💲Paid If/When Needed
Condo owners are responsible for any damages caused by themselves or their tenants to the common elements or other units, but only to a certain amount. While the condominium corporation typically carries insurance, owners may be required to cover the cost of damages up to the condo's insurance deductible.
To protect yourself from potential financial risks, it's important to maintain your own insurance coverage, including liability insurance. Understanding the details of the condominium's insurance policy and ensuring you have adequate coverage will provide peace of mind and help mitigate potential expenses in the event of damage.
Owning a condo in Ontario provides many advantages, but it also comes with financial responsibilities. By understanding the typical maintenance fees, the implications of pre-construction fees, the possibility of Special Assessments, and the responsibility for damages, condo owners can make informed decisions and plan their finances accordingly.
As a condo owner, it's important to familiarize yourself with the specific details of your condominium corporation's financials and consult with legal and financial professionals for personalized advice. This will help you navigate the world of condo ownership more confidently and help ensure a positive ownership experience.
We hope this article helped you make cents (oops, we mean make sense!) of financials within your corporation, so you can protect yourself and your investment as you navigate Condoland!
P.S. We’re here to help protect condo homeowners such as yourself through easy access to educational resources and many more features. Register now to take full advantage of everything that Stratastic has to offer!
Tags: condo ownership, Ontario condominiums, maintenance fees, reserve fund, operating fund, pre-construction fees, special assessments, financial obligations, condo expenses, condo community, condo living, condo amenities, condo management, condo insurance, financial planning, condo maintenance, condo costs, condo ownership responsibilities, condo financials, new condo owner.