Everything you need to know when buying a condominium

 

Everything you need to know when buying a condominium

Location isn’t the only thing to consider when buying a condo. Buyers should look at things like the financial health of the condo corporation, the amenities, the maintenance of the common areas and the community rules. Buyers also need to understand the fees that come with living in a condo. 

 

Condominium Fees

Buying a condo means you must be aware of 2 key expenses:

  • monthly common expense fees (condo fees)
  • special assessments

Monthly Common Expense Fees

Monthly common expense fees (condo fees) cover the costs of keeping common elements in good repair. They also cover the operating costs of things like fitness facilities, party rooms and swimming pools. 

If the condominium has staff, like security, cleaners and concierge, these costs will be covered by monthly condo fees.

Monthly fees may cover all, some or none of the costs of your utilities. Condo buyers need to make sure they know:

  • what services are and are not included in the monthly condo fees
  • if they need to pay certain costs in advance
  • what is included in the monthly operating costs (e.g. utilities, legal fees, property management services and landscaping)

The condominium declaration shows (in percentages) how much each unit must pay in monthly condo fees. Although it is not required by law, condo fee percentages are usually calculated by the size of a unit. For example, owners of a three-bedroom condo typically pay a higher monthly condo fee than owners of a one-bedroom condo.

You are responsible for paying your condo fees. They are your share of the operating expenses of the condo corporation.

Increases can happen at any time and for a number of reasons, like an unexpected major repair, a lawsuit involving the corporation, or just to keep up with rising costs.

These increases tend to occur when the annual budget is set by the board of directors. Check when the last increase took place to help you determine when to expect another. 

Owners of newly-built condos can experience a significant increase in condo fees in the 2nd or 3rd year of ownership. This is because fees to cover the cost of certain amenities, like a guest suite that a corporation may have to buy as an asset, might not take effect until year 2.

Also, although developers estimate monthly expenses for the first fiscal year of a condo corporation, it isn’t until the board of directors takes over and conducts the first reserve fund study that you begin to know the true costs of maintaining the building.

Reserve Fund

A portion of your monthly condo fees goes to build up a reserve fund. A condo corporation must set up and maintain a reserve fund for the major repair and replacement of common elements and/or assets. These can include the roof, exterior of the building, roads, sidewalks, sewers, heating, electrical, plumbing, elevators, laundry and recreational facilities.

The corporation must hire a qualified professional, like an architect or engineer, to conduct a reserve fund study. This study:

  • recommends how much money is needed for the reserve fund  
  • includes estimates of how long the common elements and assets will last and what it will cost to repair or replace certain parts of each
  • is designed to help keep the condominium property in good repair
  • reduces the risk that owners will need to pay a special assessment fee to make sudden major repairs
  • helps ensure that the cost of future repairs is not passed on only to future owners
  • must be presented to the board for approval

New condo corporations must complete a reserve fund study within one year of registration. The fund must be adequately funded by the end of the following fiscal year. The corporation must conduct reserve fund studies every three years.

The value of a condo unit can depend on the financial health of the reserve fund.

Special Assessments

Special assessments are a type of common expense fee. They can be charged by a condo corporation from time to time in addition to the regular monthly condo fees. Special assessments may be charged to help pay for unexpected major repairs or shortfalls in the reserve fund.

The condominium declaration sets out how much each condo unit will pay when there is a special assessment. It is the same percentage that is used to determine an owner’s share of monthly condo fees.

A special assessment is set by the condo board and does not need to be approved by all owners. You have the right to request copies of financial records from your board, as long as you put your request in writing and give reasonable notice.

Buying a Newly-Built Condo

When you buy a unit in a newly-built condominium directly from a developer, Ontario’s Condominium Act gives you specific protections.

Buyer Protections

  • when you buy a newly-built condo, you have the right to cancel the purchase within a 10-calendar day cooling-off period. The clock on this 10-day period starts from the time you receive a copy of the fully signed purchase and sale agreement or the disclosure statement (whichever comes later)
  • you also have the right to cancel a sales agreement within 10 days after any “material change” (i.e. a significant change) to the disclosure statement
  • if you exercise your right to cancel, the developer must refund any deposit plus any interest that may be payable
  • if you make a deposit, the developer must make sure that it is held in trust
  • a developer can’t terminate your purchase and sale agreement without your consent or a court order
  • like all new home purchases, newly-built condo units are covered by the Ontario New Home Warranties Plan Act, which is overseen by Tarion Warranty Corporation

Learn more about Tarion’s warranty for condo owners.

Buying a newly-built condo does not mean you should skip getting a home inspection. A quality home inspection will help you make an informed decision before buying a home. It will help you understand a home’s condition and value.

Developers’ Obligations

Developers must:

  • take all reasonable steps to finish the condo project on time. You may have a right to compensation if your condo closing is unreasonably delayed
  • register the legal documents that are needed to set up the condo corporation without delay

The developer must also provide you with a disclosure statement that includes:

  • a general description of the property. For example, the land and building(s) perimeters and unit boundaries
  • the number of units the builder intends to lease. If a builder intends to keep ownership of a block of units, he or she will also become a unit owner and can have control over some affairs of the condo corporation
  • estimated start and end dates for the construction of amenities that are not completed
  • the condo corporation’s current budget. The developer has to release the estimated revenue and expenses for the first year of operation. This information will allow you to plan for your monthly condo fees in that first year.

    The budget should show costs for things like staff, maintenance and utilities. Among other reasons, monthly condo fees can increase if the developer defers some expenses and does not include them in the first-year budget 
  • the condo declaration. This contains the condominium’s fundamental rules, sets out the definition of units and common elements, shows the percentage of ownership each unit has in the common elements and shows how much each owner must pay in monthly condo fees
  • condo by-laws, rules and restrictions. They will set out any restrictions on how you can use your unit or the common elements. For example, they may:
    • restrict the size or number of pets
    • restrict the colours you can use for shades or blinds
    • require you to file certain documents with the corporation if you want to rent your unit

Be aware when buying a newly-built condo

New condo owners are sometimes unpleasantly surprised by large increases in condo fees. These increases can occur during the 2nd or 3rd year of ownership.

For example, fees to cover the cost of certain amenities, like a guest suite that a corporation may have to buy as an asset, might not take effect until year 2. Before you buy, find out if there will be any deferred costs and make sure that you can handle a rise in monthly condo fees.

Developers estimate monthly expenses in the disclosure statement. However, it isn’t until the board of directors takes over – and conducts the 1st reserve fund study – that you begin to know the true costs of maintaining the building.    

Buying a Resale Condo

There are 2 main differences between buying a unit from the developer and buying a resale condo:

  • the Condominium Act gives people who buy a newly-built condo a 10-calendar day cooling-off period during which they can cancel the purchase. However, the Condominium Act does not provide buyers of resale condo units with a cooling-off period
  • when you buy from a developer you are entitled to receive and review a package of materials called a disclosure statement. With a resale condo, you can review a similar package called a status certificate, provided by the condo corporation. However, you have to request and pay a fee to receive a status certificate. Both packages include copies of the declaration, by-laws and rules

If you decide to work with a real estate professional, know that in Ontario real estate salespersons and brokers must be registered with the Real Estate Council of Ontario (RECO).

Learn about the benefits of working with a registered real estate professional from RECO.

We recommend that buyers of resale condos get a home inspection. A quality home inspection will help you make an informed decision before buying a home. It will help you understand a home’s condition and value.

Learn more about home inspections.

Status Certificate

When you are buying a resale condo, be sure you receive and understand the status certificate.

You should consider making your offer conditional on your satisfactory review of this certificate. We also recommended that buyers get advice from a lawyer and accountant.

A status certificate should include:

  • a statement on the status of the current owner’s condo fee payments. Is the current owner up-to-date in paying his or her condo fees? If not, you may owe these fees to the corporation if you purchase the unit
  • the condo corporation financial status. This includes:
    • the current budget
    • the most recent audited financial statement
    • the status of the reserve fund
    • any special assessments that are in place
    • if the corporation knows of anything that may result in future increases in condo fees. 

      Note that if major repairs are planned, monthly condo fees are likely to increase. 

      It is also important to check that a reserve fund study has been completed and that the reserve fund is not underfunded. Part of the value of the condo unit you are buying is the financial health of the reserve fund.
  • the condo declaration. This sets out the legal definition of the units and common elements, shows the percentage of ownership each unit has in the property and shows how much each owner must pay in condo fees
  • condo by-laws, rules and restrictions. The board of directors can pass rules and by-laws that will govern the condo corporation. These must be accepted by the owners and cannot conflict with the Condominium Act. The board of directors may also make rules to govern day-to-day living, like how the freight elevator can be used, if owners can have pets, or what colours can used for blinds or shades

Ask These Question Before You Buy

There are many things that you should consider before buying a condo unit. 

The advice of a lawyer, real estate agent or accountant can help you see the full picture and make an informed decision.

All condo buyers:

Here are some questions that all condo owners should discuss when reviewing the condo declaration, by-laws and rules with their lawyer, real estate agent or accountant.

Keep in mind that this is not an exhaustive list. Also, it also does not include questions related to the agreement of purchase and sale.   

  • How are my condo fees determined?
  • Do the declaration, by-laws and rules of the condominium suit my lifestyle? For example, some condominiums limit the size and number of pets. Some prohibit certain pets altogether.
  • What are the boundaries of my unit? Are the windows and doors part of my unit? Is the roof part of my unit in a townhouse complex? Are any of the pipes behind the drywall part of my unit? In most cases, you will be responsible for and required to maintain and repair your own unit.
  • What are my repair and maintenance responsibilities? Am I responsible for the maintenance of my heating and cooling equipment? If a pipe leaks behind the wall, is it my responsibility to repair? If I have exclusive use of a yard, deck or fence, am I responsible for maintaining and repairing them?
  • Should I consider getting extra insurance? What does the corporation's standard insurance cover? It is important to understand the corporation’s insurance coverage so that you understand:
    • what you are responsible for
    • if you would like to get your own insurance coverage
  • Is there enough money in the reserve fund? Are there any planned expenditures? It is important to know the financial health of the corporation to help assess what your condo fees will be.
  • How many rental and/or mixed-use units are there? Remember, condo owners who rent out their units as an investment may not share the same interests as owners who live in the building.
  • Is there a shared facilities agreement with another condominium or property? Some condominium properties may share amenities with others.
  • Are there commercial units? This means that residents will need to share the building with stores and businesses.

Buyers of newly-built condos:

On top of the questions above, here are questions that buyers of newly-built condos should discuss when reviewing the condo budget and disclosure statement with their lawyer, real estate agent or accountant.

Keep in mind that this is not an exhaustive list. Also, it also does not include questions related to the agreement of purchase and sale.   

  • How might my condo fees increase in the 2nd fiscal year of the condominium corporation?  Are there any deferred costs?  For example, will the condominium corporation have to buy an amenities unit (e.g. a recreation centre) where costs don’t kick in until the 2nd fiscal year? If so, will that result in a fee increase to condo owners?
  • Do the condo fees seem comparable to other buildings of the same size and with similar amenities?
  • Are all utilities for the unit included in the maintenance fees? If they are not, they will be an additional expense that you will need to budget for.
  • Is the reserve fund contribution for the 1st year only at 10% of the corporation’s budget for the 1st fiscal year?  This is the bare minimum. It also means the reserve fund contribution may have to be increased fairly quickly in the 2nd fiscal year. This could affect your condo fees.
  • How many units does the developer intend to own and lease? Remember that at owners’ meetings, an owner gets one vote for each unit that he or she owns.  
  • Are there any restrictions for owners looking to rent their units? Some corporations may have some restrictions on renting condo units.
  • Did the builder put in place a standard unit by-law and an insurance deductible chargeback by-law? They may spell out:
    • how the condo corporation’s insurance works when there is damage to your unit
    • how the condo corporation’s insurance works when damage to other units or the common elements originates from your unit

Owners need to understand how a corporation’s insurance coverage works because the cost of damage and repairs could be significant. This may help you determine if you would like to get your own the insurance coverage.

If these by-laws are not in place they can be passed later, but will require approval of a majority of owners. This can be hard to get.

Buyers of resale condos:

Here are questions that buyers of resale condos should discuss when reviewing the condo budget and status certificate with their lawyer, real estate agent or accountant.

Keep in mind that this is not an exhaustive list. Also, it also does not include questions related to the agreement of purchase and sale.   

  • Is the budget in a deficit or a surplus? It is important to know the financial health of the corporation to help assess what your condo fees will be.
  • Has the budget increased in the past few years? Are the increases due to things other than inflation or utility costs? What are the reasons for these increases? Past budget increases may help you see if more future increases are likely to happen.
  • Are there plans to increase condo fees during the current fiscal year? Does the corporation know of anything that may lead to an increase in the condo fees? Has the corporation levied any special assessments? A special assessment is a type of common expense fee that is in addition to the regular condo fees and help pay for things like unexpected major repairs or shortfalls in the reserve fund.
  • Are all utilities for the unit included in the condo fees? If they are not, they will be an additional expense that you will need to budget for.
  • What services (e.g. security, maintenance, staffing) does the budget include? How much do they cost?                     
  • What is the amount in the corporation’s reserve fund? Sometimes, when a condo corporation has a large reserve fund in relation to its operating budget, it could mean that major repairs may be needed soon. Keep in mind that this is not necessarily a bad thing. It could mean that the corporation planned well and saved money in advance.

It’s also not necessarily a bad thing if the reserve fund is low. It could mean that the corporation just spent money on major repairs and is now replenishing the fund.

  • Is there a standard unit by-law and an insurance deductible chargeback by-law? They may spell out:
    • how the condo corporation’s insurance works when there is damage to your unit
    • how the condo corporation’s insurance works when damage to other units or the common elements originates from your unit


Owners need to understand how a corporation’s insurance coverage works because the cost of damage and repairs could be significant. This may help you determine if you would like to get your own the insurance coverage.

  • Is the corporation involved in any lawsuits? If so, what is the case about and how much money is at stake? Are there any judgments against the corporation? If so, does the corporation have to pay any money, etc., to another party?
  • How many parking spaces and locker units come with the unit?  Are they owned by individual unit owners or are they exclusive-use common elements? It is important to understand if you will have a parking spot or locker space, and if you or if the corporation will be responsible for maintaining and repairing it.

 

Source: Ministry of Consumer Services

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