This is going to sound insane, but hiring a lawyer to look at your condominium’s governing documents is usually cheap. There are many online sites where you can ask an expert in real estate law and pay under $100 for an answer. I myself have used one of these services, and it was worth it.
I hired an online lawyer because the Covenants, Conditions, and Restrictions (CC&Rs) governing my condo building say that no business may be conducted out of any unit, and no businesses may be registered to any unit. However, I had heard that a new city ordinance made restrictions like this unlawful, though the legal language of this ordinance was extremely confusing. I finally went to a lawyer-by-the-hour website, and asked how these restrictions worked. The lawyer, in under 30 minutes, was able to clarify that most small, home businesses (with certain restrictions) were in fact lawful no matter what the CC&Rs said; this law explicitly overrides any CC&R restrictions on certain types of home businesses. I paid $60 for this answer.
Often, if your question is about a basic interpretation of legal language, it’s much quicker and cheaper for an online lawyer to address. Of course, the more complicated your situation, the less useful and inexpensive this type of lawyer will be.
Don’t Assume Anything About Your CC&Rs
It is essential to identify your unconscious assumptions when buying any property governed by a homeowners association (HOA), which many of us (like me!) learn the hard way. Are you planning on living in the unit, but assuming that if your work or living situation changes, or you need extra income, you can easily rent out your property? Most condominiums have a rental cap, which limits the total number of units that can be rented out at one time, and getting your unit on the rental market could be extremely difficult.
A lot of buyers also assume that they can rent out their property short-term on sites like AirBnB. In some condominiums, this can be easy, but in most, there are plenty of unseen difficulties. Perhaps you’ve lived in an apartment building previously, and seen other tenants easily (and likely illegally) rent out their units on a short-term rental site. This is probably easier to get away with in an apartment building, because the residents are all renters, and are much less invested in the property. In a condominium, the owner-residents may have much more restrictive language about short-term rentals, and are understandably much more invested in monitoring violations of these policies.
Especially before purchasing a condominium (or any HOA-governed property), it is essential to investigate your CC&Rs. This sounds exhausting, since these documents are extremely long, with difficult legal language. However, you don’t necessarily have to read every word, but be sure to look up the basics.
A lot of CC&Rs were created long ago, and are in old, typewritten format, which makes them difficult to search. However, most phones can now scan a photo of text and convert it into a searchable file. Before purchasing a condominium, highlight the CC&Rs, and copy/paste them into a computer document so you can search them for key words that address whatever issues you’re concerned with.
Remember; be clear with yourself about what you are expecting to be able to do with the condominium, and search your condominium documents for the answer. Hire a lawyer to verify any doubts you have. You’ll be much more confident and relaxed about your home purchase when you fully understand your own intentions, and how they relate to the laws and restrictions governing your new home!