As gasoline prices rise with increasing summer demand, American thoughts focus sharply on the cost of energy and ways to trim fat from their overall energy budgets. Yet for the nation’s nearly sixty million condo dwellers, considering newer energy-saving options can be a tricky proposition at best. While some condos or co-ops move rapidly to adopt the latest green technologies, many associations, still governed by documents drafted decades in the past, may be burdened with legal language that expressly prohibits their communities from making a variety of environmentally-friendly updates.
Has your condo property gone green? And, if not, how green can you go?
“I think what you’re seeing is just the beginning of those types of questions arising for [condo] associations,” says Mitchell Frumkin, president of Kipcon, Inc., a New Jersey-based engineering and consulting firm that provides condo reserve and transition studies. “As we go into the future, and people are looking more at the sustainable options such as solar panels, you’re going to see more of that because it’s affecting the common elements of the community.”
Who Owns That Component?
The problems, experts note, arise from the unique legal aspects of a condo community. In apartment buildings and similar forms of high-density housing, property ownership is clearly defined through the traditional landlord/tenant relationship. Not so with condo properties, and many experienced managers can speak to the unusual ownership questions that sometimes arise.
“Mortgage holders have specific rights,” says New Hampshire attorney Jon Wilkinson, “and for a condominium that wants to make some fairly big changes – whether it’s changing out an HVAC system or installing new utilities that are more energy efficient – that can potentially impact mortgage holder rights.” Wilkinson, a partner in the Portsmouth-based Wilkinson Law Offices, P.C., works frequently with green energy development as well as condominium law. “The problem with condominiums is that ownership is not as clear a concept as in a homeowners association. And when you start having common areas – particularly things like common roof areas or external walls – it’s much more difficult.”