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The difference between a condominium unit and a common element

Region: Ontario Answer # 416


Condominium unit

A condominium unit is for the exclusive use of the individual condominium owner and may consist of a residential unit, a storage locker, a parking spot, or a utility closet to name just a few examples. What a condominium unit consists of in any given circumstance is described in the declaration, and the unit boundaries are outlined in a schedule to the declaration.

The declaration is usually a lengthy document that contains descriptions of the individual condominium unit, the common elements, the exclusive use common elements and shared expenses. Every condominium building has a declaration, which must be registered at the time the condominium is created.


Common elements

In contrast to condominium units, common elements are not for the exclusive use of a particular unit owner, but rather, available for use by all of the condominium owners and their tenants. Common elements consist of those things that are not described and registered as a condominium unit. Examples of common elements include the front lobby, exercise facilities, and outside gardens.

It is important to note that in some cases, common elements are for the exclusive use of a particular unit owner. These elements are called exclusive use common elements. For example, a balcony to a condominium unit may or may not be part of the actual unit. It would depend on the description and the boundaries set out in the declaration. If the balcony is not characterized as part of the condominium unit, it may be an exclusive use common element. That is to say, the balcony is for the exclusive use of that particular unit.

Common expenses

Condominium owners pay for the upkeep of the common elements through maintenance fees known as common expenses. Common expenses are sometimes shared equally by all of the owners, while in other buildings the fees are calculated on a percentage basis, (pro rated so that someone who owns a larger unit will pay a higher percentage of the common expenses).


Determining what is part of the condo unit or a common element

The features of a condominium unit will differ from building to building and from corporation to corporation. It is important to refer to the declaration and any schedules attached, to know what is or is not part of the condominium unit.

For example, in one condominium building parking may be included in the unit purchase. Another building may characterize the parking spot as a separate condominium unit, and therefore, that parking space is offered for sale separately from the condominium unit. In a third building, the parking space may be designated for the exclusive use of a particular unit. In the last example, by virtue of purchasing the unit there is a right to an exclusive use of a designated parking spot. Since the ownership of the parking spot does not belong to the unit owner, however, the parking spot would be an exclusive use common element.

An easy rule to use in determining what is part of a condominium unit is that everything that is not designated as a condominium unit or an exclusive use common element, is a common element. For more information, view Ontario’s Condominium Act, or refer to the Condominium Authority of Ontario (CAO) Residential Condominium Buyers’ Guide.

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