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Being a condo owner often feels like living in the purgatory of real estate. On one hand, you’re an owner! It’s property in your name that you’re responsible for and have a say on. On the other hand, your property is within the confines of a condo corporation, and so, they too, have a certain responsibility and say over what happens within their domain. As an owner, you have to walk a fine line of what you want to do with your home and what you’re allowed to do.
Admittedly, working with a corporation or association can be slow, annoying and a blow to your ego as a mighty home owner. You may be tempted to just say “to hell with them! I own this dangit place and I’ll do what I want with it! Yeeeehhhaawww!” and go about your plans anyway. Please don’t (especially that part about yelling “Yeehaw” – no one like that). This may be an urban yuppie myth, but I’ve heard of people who totally redid their kitchen only to have the powers-that-be find out about the plans later. The condo demanded an inspection, found something to be against the rules and forced the couple to scrap their kitchen and start over – beginning with paperwork. Le yarg.
So, it’s really better to be safe than sorry. Here are some things condo owners should do before they start renovating or remodeling:
Get a copy of your condo’s status certificate and read it thoroughly. The status certificate (which you would have received when you bought your unit, but another can be ordered for you) lays out all the rules governing your condo, including whether special permissions are needed, what can be altered in the unit (your condo) and what the common elements are. Common elements are the parts of the condo taken care of by the condo corporation (often things like front doors, windows, balconies, even AC and heating units in some cases) and these most often have to be left as-is.
Ask questions in writing. Status certificates are often written in “lawyerise” – so it’s not unusual for certain things to appear less than clear. If you have questions about what’s allowed or what you need permissions for, ask your condo corporation, preferably by e-mail.
Consider a contractor with condo experience. While we love to DIY, sometimes DIY in a condo can be a PITA. Why? Many have rules about when construction work can be done, and these times are often limited to 9 – 5 on weekdays only. Super convenient unless you have one of those things called a job. Maybe you can get the time off to complete your project during the day, but chances are, you’ll need to hire someone. Look for professionals (try Angie’s List!) who understand the constraints normally in place with condos. If work is being done in your condo, you can even stalk your fellow condo neighbors and see who they’ve used and get their feedback.
Put your plans in writing and confirm them with the corporation or association. There are certain things – like knocking down a wall – that will absolutely require proper planning and permissions. Other things will depend on what’s in your status certificate. If you’re unsure, ask – and if you need to, share your plans in writing and get the formal approvals you need before you begin. Be sure to investigate whether mid-job inspections by the condo corporation are required.
Make arrangements with on-site staff. Start off on the right foot by properly booking parking (if available), the freight elevator for materials (if available) and giving your condo’s security, doormen or other staff a heads up on who is going to be coming and going from your unit. If your renovation involves access to the building’s main electrical or plumbing system, make those arrangements ahead of time.
Make sure workers are in-the-know. If you won’t be around to hover over the work, make sure the people doing the renovations firmly understand the rules (like when quitting time is) and what to do in an emergency. For example, make sure the breaker for the fire alarm (don’t want to set off the whole building by accident!) is pointed out and the number for yourself and security in the building are provided.
Be a good neighbor. You don’t need your neighbors’ permission to do approved work in your condo (nor should you try to seek it!), but we can all admit it’s annoying to live next to a construction zone. When the reno is wrapping up, drop off cards to your neighbors thanking them for their patience. If you’re feeling extra sweet, you can do this before the reno as well, perhaps accompanied with the gift of ear plugs.
Lastly, keep in mind we’re totally not lawyers. So before you dive into your own project, do your due diligence, especially since rules, laws and norms vary from country to country, region to region, and even association to association. Happy remodeling!
Jen (but never “Jenn”) Byck, aka the Fix'n Vixen, is a Toronto-based freelance writer and communication consultant who is undoubtedly home fixated (she is also TV fixated, really bad TV fixated and donut fixated). Her approach to home improvement has been rather trial and error, the latter of which is evidenced by the amount of spackle she buys on an annual basis.
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