On the most basic level, renting a condo is different from renting an apartment because a condo is individually owned and an apartment is one of many units owned within a building. There are other differences of course and renters should be aware of the advantages and disadvantages before signing a lease.
In a condo, the outside space or common areas are managed by a homeowner's association (HOA) or board of directors who typically hire a management company to handle landscaping, budgets and outside maintenance, etc. Keep in mind that if you rent from a condo owner you are not entitled to vote at HOA meetings and you will rely on the owner to inform you of any scheduled maintenance, rule changes etc. In some communities, tenants are welcome at board meetings to observe decisions but not participate and even more rarely, some communities allow tenants to share their point of view. Participating in these meetings may be of interest to a person looking to purchase a condo in the community in the future.
Condo associations have covenants, conditions and restrictions (CC&Rs) governing a wide range of topics from the minimum quorum to pass a rule change to parking, noise, park and pet rules. Unlike policies in an apartment complex, CC&Rs are legally enforceable documents and a tenant must follow the regulations. The condo owner will find themselves receiving notices of rules violations by their tenants and if the problem continues, possibly even a fine. If you are a condo tenant your landlord should provide you with a copy of the community's CC&Rs so you are aware of the rules. Be sure to ask clarifying questions of any policies you do not understand. Condo owners should also forward any communication about upcoming maintenance or inspection projects. To protect themselves and to minimize problems, the condo owner should include in the rental agreement that the tenant must follow the CC&Rs and will be responsible for any fines as a result of violations. It should also be made clear that a violation could cause the owner to take action against the tenant.
Common misunderstandings of rules include repair responsibilities, parking and pet rules, the number of people living in the home and the consequences of the owner's nonpayment of homeowner association (HOA) dues.
Unlike renting an apartment, if your unit needs a repair you will need to contact the condo owner. It is very rare that the community's management company would be in charge of repairs inside your unit. If, however, the repair is in a shared area such as an outdoor walkway, the tenant may be able to contact the HOA directly to resolve the issue. If an issue affects both the individual unit and a common area, it would be best to contact both the owner and the association.
The two greatest concerns for tenants arise when the owner fails to pay the association dues or the mortgage. The tenant can be blissfully unaware that there is a problem until a foreclosure notice or lawsuit paperwork is taped to the front door. If you face this unfortunate situation you may need to seek the help of a lawyer to protect your rights as a tenant.
Be aware that it can take longer to be approved for a condo as your application must first go to the owner and then to the board of directors. The board of directors or HOA may require a detailed application, which, in addition to a typical application in a rental building, can include letters of business and personal reference, a CPA letter as well as substantial verification of assets.
On the plus side, condo buildings are mostly full of owners who care about the upkeep of their unit and the community. You may also have higher end amenities in a condo unit and have greater flexibility in negotiating your rental contract terms.
The bottom line is that you should be aware of differences in renting a condo versus an apartment and decide which is best for you and your family. For a list of condo and apartment rentals available in Bellingham through Son-Rise Property management click here. Good luck in your search!