Understanding the Difference Between A Condo's General Common Elements and Limited Common Elements
There are two main physical components of a condo building: the units themselves, and the common elements. The common elements are further broken up into general common elements and limited common elements.
General common elements are shared by the whole community and include areas such as the roof, the foundation, the lobby, elevators, stairwells, hallways, and recreational facilities.
Limited common elements are only accessible to certain owners or occupants of specific units within the building and may include balconies, patios or other similar spaces. Parking spaces are also sometimes limited common elements that get assigned to specific units.
Why does it matter whether a particular item is a general common element or a limited common element? Mostly, it has to do with maintenance. It is the responsibility of the condominium association to maintain general common elements, and all the owners share in the cost. A good board will have a plan for the long-term maintenance and repair of these elements.
With respect to limited common elements, however, the bylaws will usually spell out whether maintenance and repair is the responsibility of individual owners or the association. Often times, even if it is the association's responsibility to maintain a limited common element, the cost of such maintenance or repair will be borne by the owner of the unit the limited common element is assigned to.
Another reason the distinction between a general common element and a limited common element is important is that, as noted above, only certain units will have access to limited common elements. Take, for example, a grassy area in the backyard of a condo building in a converted rowhouse: it's important to know whether that area is a limited common element or not, because that will dictate whether all the unit owners will have access to the area, or whether it's just the first floor unit whose back door opens into the backyard who can use it.
This information will be found in the condo's declaration and its plats and plans. And if you're buying into the building you would be well advised to find out the answer to that question BEFORE you close on your condo!