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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). Also, see "Cohousing" concept.

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.)

Forms of Construction. Condominium develops are typically in one of four forms: (i) townhouse, (ii) stacked lowrise, (iii) stacked midrise, and (iv) stacked highrise.

1. Townhouses. Townhouse condominiums are sometimes called patio homes and are side-by-side units that share a party wall. They do not have units above them or below. The number of side-by-side units can be as low as two or as many as a dozen or more. The townhomes are typically 2 or 3-story structures. The townhouse and the lot on which it rests are owned in common by all owners. The airspace inside the townhouse is owned separately by each unit owner. Parking is either in garages or carports. Management is usually offsite and budgets depend on the amenities and number of units.

2. Lowrise Condominiums. These are stacked condominiums which are either two or three stories tall with or without elevators. Parking is either exposed lots or carports.  For most, management is offsite. If the condominium complex is large with significant amenities, management could be onsite. Budgets will vary with the size of the complex and the number of amenities.

3. Midrise Condominiums. Midrise condominium structures are four to eight stories tall with elevators. Parking is normally underground. Budgets are moderate and management is often offsite but could be onsite if the complex is large enough.

4. Highrise Condominiums. Highrise condominium structures are nine + stories tall, with some as tall as 60 stories. Parking is underground. These are typically luxury buildings with large  budgets and large staffs that include onsite management, housekeeping, maintenance, security personnel and valet.

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