Condominiums and cooperatives are types of common interest communities that individuals can reside in. In most cases, it is impossible to distinguish cooperative and condominium communities simply by looking at the structure of the residence.

Determining whether a community is a cooperative or a condominium can be determined by reviewing the residential regulations of the community. Individuals have begun purchasing condominiums and cooperatives as forms of real estate investments.

There are many convenient advantages to condominiums and cooperatives, such as ease of transaction, prime locations, and affordability. Since the two can be very similar, many individuals do not know the difference between the two. However, there are several differences between a coop versus a condo.

In a condominium community, individuals can own their own units and maintain legal title to the individual condominium unit. The owners may still share obligations and ownership in common areas but they are usually granted title to their own living unit. Condominium associations and boards do not typically own the living areas.

In a cooperative community, on the other hand, an association or corporation usually owns the land and the building. Individuals typically pay rent and make contributions for basic repairs in common areas. The association acts similar to a landlord and the individuals living in the community are subject to monthly rental payments.

The purchase of a condominium typically involves the sale of an individual unit. In contrast, purchasing in a coop typically refers to a corporation or organization which invests in an entire building complex.

What are Common Interest Communities?

Both a condominium and a cooperative are forms of common interest communities. The two have similarities but can be distinguished by their form of ownership. Usually, a common interest community has:

  • A single developer, or an individual who initially regulates the community;
  • A board, governing body or association. When a developer leaves, a board usually takes over and governs the community. A board’s duties may include:
    • Enforcing covenants or restrictions in the community;
    • Collecting fees for maintaining and improving the common areas of the community; and
    • Levying fines if any resident does not follow the regulations of the community;
  • Laws or regulations. While states have laws regarding common interest communities, these communities are typically governed by their own documents. An individual can usually find the common interest community’s regulations in the following documents:
    • The master deed from the developer;
    • The bylaws of the community, which usually include duties and powers of the governing body; and
    • The constitution of the association or community.

What is a Cooperative Community?

In a cooperative community, a corporation or association owns the building as well as the land. An individual pays rent for the maintenance and repair of common areas in the building.

The rent payments are typically equivalent to mortgage payments of the property and property taxes. In a cooperative community, a buyer actually owns nothing and is essentially a tenant with the association acting as a landlord.

A cooperative lawyer can assist individuals who are purchasing or selling cooperative communities. This type of lawyer can explain how these communities work as well as advise cooperative community residents of their rights.

What is a Condominium?

In a condominium community, individuals own their own units and the air space within that unit. Individuals who purchase a condominium have legal title to that unit.

Condominium owners share ownership and obligations for the common areas with other condominium owners. In many cases, condominium owners pay a periodic ee for the repair and maintenance of common areas. The condominium board or association does not actually own anything but is the regulatory body for the community.

A condominium owner is typically not solely responsible for the repairs and upkeep of condominium property. Instead, they pay dues to the homeowner’s association, which is in charge of purchasing property hazard insurance for the entire complex as well as maintenance and repair in the common areas.

In addition, condominium owners are typically restricted in the ways in which they can modify the exterior of their unit and, in some cases, the interior. These modifications are governed by covenants, conditions, and restrictions, or CC&Rs, which are typically set forth by the homeowner’s association.

A condominium lawyer can assist individuals who are purchasing or selling a condominium unit. A lawyer can advise individuals regarding the rights and restrictions when purchasing a condominium.

What are Some Common Condo and Cooperative Disputes?

In general, a property manager will favor earning profit over tenant satisfaction. Because of this, property managers are often at the center of property disputes. Common examples of property management disputes may include:

  • Eviction issues;
  • Maintenance problems;
  • Housing code violations; and
  • Miscellaneous issues.

Eviction issues are one of the most common causes of property management disputes. A dispute over an eviction may involve:

  • Procedural issues which make the eviction action illegal, such as improper notice;
  • Self-help problems, such as when a landlord changes the locks; or
  • Removing a tenant’s personal property from their unit without their consent.

Maintenance problems can refer to several issues, including:

  • Failure to maintain the premises;
  • Failure to respond to maintenance requests swiftly and thoroughly; or
  • Ignoring a tenant’s maintenance issue entirely.

A housing code violation may include many issues which landlords are required to provide tenants. This may include providing heat or hot water to tenants in the winter time.

There are also other issues which may arise during property management disputes, including:

  • Failing to screen employees, including doormen or supers;
  • Using suspicious rent collections practices;
  • Refusing to resolve disputes between neighbors; and
  • Entering into a tenant’s apartment without proper notice.

Many common interest communities have homeowner’s associations, or HOAs, that are the governing body of the community. As previously noted, CC&Rs are the rules which are established and enforced by the HOA that the homeowner agreed to follow when the individual purchased the unit.

Common examples of CC&Rs include:

  • How the homeowner must maintain their landscaping and failing to do so may result in penalties;
  • The exterior appearance of a unit, including what color the exterior is painted, what shutters or coverings are allowed, or where and how tall the fences are. Other exterior attachments or fixtures which may be regulated by an HOA include:
    • tire swings;
    • satellite dishes;
    • yard decor; and
    • flags;
  • Whether a homeowner may own a certain type, size, or number of pets; and
  • What types of vehicles or the number of vehicles a homeowner is permitted to park in the driveway or street. For example, many HOAs do not permit boats or RVs to be parked in the street or driveway.

If a homeowner fails to follow the CC&Rs, it may result in a fine from the HOA, a lien attachment to the home, or even a foreclosure due to failing to pay HOA dues, receiving fines, or failing to follow the HOA rules.

A condo dispute lawyer can assist an individual with any issues that may arise out of ownership of their unit. It is important to have the assistance of an attorney to avoid a lien or foreclosure on an individual’s residence.

Should I Consult with a Real Estate Attorney?

Yes, it is essential to have the assistance of a real estate lawyer with any issues regarding condominiums and cooperatives. Every common interest community has a unique set of regulations and a different governing body.

Your attorney can help you understand the numerous documents and rules of your common interest community as well as advise you of your rights. Your attorney can also assist you with any disputes with the governing body or a common interest community neighbor.