Air Space Condominium Ownership

Most condominium ownership is structured around the concept of air space. This means that the building, walls, and common areas are owned communally by all owners through the homeowners association (HOA). Thus, the individual condominium owner only controls the air space created by the walls of their unit. Generally, a condominium owner cannot eliminate walls, or cut through them without the express permission of the homeowners association, even if the walls are only on the inside of their unit.

Besides how strange it is to only own air, this type of ownership seems relatively straightforward. However, there are a number of complexities to air space ownership. Generally, the condominium owner may paint, tile, or put hardwood floors in their unit without the consent of the HOA. This may seem odd, since the individual owner owns nothing but air. However, the paint and floor surfacing are generally seen as part of the owner’s air space, and not as a fundamental part of the walls and floors themselves. By adding a layer of paint or tile to a wall, the owner is only infringing on their own air space; they are not taking anything away from the wall. The drywall, insulation, and reinforcements of the walls are owned by the HOA, but anything applied to the wall or floor surface is generally under the control of the condominium owner.

Another factor that complicates this air space concept involves HOA-maintained appliances or fixtures. For example, a radiator may be located well inside the walls of the unit, and therefore in the air space of the unit owner. However, since the radiator is part of an HOA-controlled system, the radiator is generally not under the control of the homeowner (besides the owner’s ability to turn the heat up or down). To remove a radiator would affect the entire radiator system, so a homeowner could not do this without express permission of the HOA.

A positive aspect of HOA-owned appliances like a radiator is that, if the radiator leaks and causes damage to the unit, the HOA is generally responsible for fixing this damage, as long as the homeowner has not interfered with the functioning of the radiator in any way. Many HOAs may try to make the homeowner pay for this damage; however, from a legal standpoint, the HOA is usually responsible for this kind of repair.

Another complexity of condominium ownership involves HOA-owned spaces that are limited to use by one or a few owners. For example, a parking space that is part of the HOA-owned parking lot might be limited to use by only one owner for the purpose of parking their car. Thus, this owner does not have much ability to change the parking space in any way, but they are the only owner who may use it. The HOA bylaws or CC&Rs should clearly specify this type of communal area that is limited to use by one owner.

Of course, condominiums have endless variability in their rules and regulations, and there are countless exceptions to the rules outlined in this article. It is essential to read the fine print of the CC&Rs carefully to understand how ownership of each individual unit is structured. Legal disclaimers are always fun, so please remember that this article should not be construed as legal advice. However, understanding the general concepts behind air space condominium ownership can help contextualize any variations or exceptions.