Separate Interest. When someone buys a condominium, their "real property" is typically defined as a cube of air bounded by the unfinished surfaces of the perimeter walls, ceilings and floors. All improvements contained in that space, such as carpets, cabinets, light fixtures, plumbing fixtures, etc., are part of the real property defined as the owner's "separate interest" because it is separate from real property that is owned in common with other members of the association, i.e., common areas.
Common Areas. Common area is defined as "the entire common interest development, except the separate interest therein." (Civ. Code § 4095(a); Pinnacle Museum Tower v. Pinnacle Market Dev'l.) It means that everything in a condominium development is either a separate interest or common area.
Exclusive Use Common Area. Exclusive use common area (EUCA), sometimes referred to as "restricted common area" or "limited common element," is a subset of common area. “Exclusive use common area means a portion of the common area . . .” (Civ. Code § 4145(a).) EUCAs are those common areas outside the owner's separate interest which are for the exclusive use of that owner.
1. CC&Rs. Newer CC&Rs specify areas for owners' exclusive use such as balconies, patios, storage areas, parking spaces, plumbing, electrical, etc. Older documents (pre-1985) normally do not use the term. Sometimes, even when the term is used, maintenance responsibilities are unclear.
2. Condominium Plan. The association's condominium plan typically designates areas, such as balconies and parking spaces, set aside for an owner's exclusive use.
3. Davis-Stirling Act. The Davis-Stirling Act contains a default definition of exclusive use common areas if none is found in the CC&Rs or condominium plan. Civil Code § 4145 defines the following as exclusive use common areas:
- shutters, awnings, window boxes
- doorsteps [a step or series of steps leading to the outer door of a house], stoops [a porch with stairs], porches [a covered area extending from a door]
- balconies and patios
- exterior doors, door frames, and hardware
- screens and windows
- fixtures designed to serve a single interest but existing outside the boundaries of the separate interest
- telephone wiring
Granting Exclusive Use. Unless already granted in the governing documents, boards cannot give an owner exclusive use of the common areas. With a few exceptions, such grants require membership approval.
Recommendation: Older CC&Rs frequently fail to properly address the maintenance responsibilities of exclusive use common areas. This deficiency can be cured by amending or restating the CC&Rs and by creating a maintenance chart.
ASSISTANCE: Associations needing legal assistance can contact us. To stay current with issues affecting community associations, subscribe to the Davis-Stirling Newsletter.