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Community Living: Know the Basics Before Submitting the Offer

Developers all over New Jersey are offering a growing number of community living options to residents of these densely populated areas of the state (particularly in the Gateway Region). The availability of new condominiums, cooperative apartments and townhouses appear to be increasing exponentially, especially as residential real estate costs are sky-rocketing in New York City. While the idea of community living seems enticing (little to no maintenance responsibilities, access to luxury amenities and lower purchase prices than many of the so-called "McMansions"), potential purchasers may not understand the nuts and bolts of community living. In the past, I have represented the interests of both Homeowner/Condominium Associations and Residential Unit Owners with respect to conflicts that many Residential Unit Owners could not fathom.

There are many benefits to community living, but when a governing body has the power to demand that an owner remove window treatments because those treatments violate community rules, owners can regret their purchase. Similarly, many Residential Unit Owners do not go over the by-laws that they were given before closing and do not understand what belongs to the individual and what belongs to the community, or that smoking cigarettes is not permitted within their private residential unit. The crucial consideration for a potential purchaser of a condominium unit, cooperative apartment or townhouse is whether he or she will be comfortable abiding by community rules that do not echo their personal beliefs in exchange for benefits such as higher-end amenities, a building manager to handles the less desirable parts of home-ownership (such as time consuming lawn maintenance) or living in a vibrant area with more recreational options.

Other times, potential purchasers do not realize that their monthly HOA or COA fees can be recalculated at any time. A Residential Unit Owner's proportion of these fees does remain stable, which means that if his or her apartment or interest (the latter applies to a cooperative building) is 20% of the whole, it will typically always be 20% of the whole. This is because a Residential Unit Owner's apartment/unit is a percentage of the entire building and the building is unlikely to change is size. The actual amount of that monthly fee, however, is subject to change based on the building's operating costs. If, for example, an HOA or COA needs to repair the swimming pool in the building, that cost must be borne by all Residential Unit Owners in proportionally, regardless of whether a Residential Unit Owner uses the pool. Failure to pay these fees is probably one of the most common conflicts that Residential Unit Owners have with their HOAs or COAs. Other, less common conflicts include a Residential Unit Owner's failure to comply with one of the HOA or COA rules and the adoption of new rules that are more restrictive than what existed when the Residential Unit Owner purchased the property.

The best way to avoid a conflict is to start with a good understanding of what community living entails. The Law Offices of Clarissa R. Cartagena, LLC can help a potential purchaser understand these aspects of community living.

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