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Condominium Defined. Condominium is Latin in origin and means co-ownership. Unlike stock cooperatives, condominium owners hold title to their units. A condominium is defined as "an estate in real property, consisting of an undivided interest in common in a portion of real property coupled with a separate interest called a unit." (Civ. Code §4125.) The covenants, conditions and restrictions ("CC&Rs") recorded against the entire project restrict the use of the property and define the responsibilities of association as a whole as well as the owners individually.

Condo Varieties. A condominium is typically a cube of air although it can be water or earth. Condominiums are often vertically stacked units (often from 3 to 30 stories) and consist of an air space bounded by the floors, ceilings, and perimeter walls surrounding that space. However, they can just as easily be side-by-side condominiums such as townhouses or even mobilehome condominiums (where cubes of air with surveyed boundaries sit on lots within which owners park their mobilehomes).

Condominium Project Defined. A "condominium project" is a form of common interest development. A "condominium" is "an undivided interest in common in a portion of real property coupled with a separate interest in space called a unit . . . ." (Civ. Code §4125.) The boundaries of units and common areas are described in a condominium plan. Unless the governing documents provide otherwise, the common area of a condominium project is owned by the owners of the separate interests as tenants in common. In addition to the combined ownership of the two estates enumerated above, the major characteristics of a condominium include an agreement among the unit owners regulating the administration and maintenance of the property.

The agreement is reflected in the governing documents of the association; which includes the declaration and any other documents, such as bylaws, operating rules of the association, articles of incorporation which govern the operation of the common interest development. (Civil Code §4150.) The development's restrictions should be contained in its recorded declaration but may also be contained in an association's internal rules or bylaws. The CC&Rs bind all owners of separate interests in the development. (Ritter v. Churchill.)

Membership. Any conveyance, whether voluntary or involuntary, of an owner's interest in the unit automatically includes the owner's membership in the association. (Civ. Code §4630.) Owners automatically become members of a nonprofit corporation or of an unincorporated association created for the purpose of managing the development. Associations are governed by a board of directors selected by the membership. (Corp. Code §7210.)

Inherent in condominium ownership is the principle that to promote the health, happiness and peace of mind of the majority of the unit owners, each unit owner must give up a certain degree of freedom of choice which he or she might otherwise enjoy in separate, privately owned property. (Nahrstedt v. Lakeside Village.)

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