Re: Exterior modifications
From: R Philip Dowds (
Date: Mon, 17 Feb 2014 07:47:59 -0800 (PST)
OK, this is tricky.

There are several good reasons why the condo association, and not the unit 
owner, should own and maintain the entire exterior envelope for all buildings.  
At least for duplex and multi-family structures.  This is the case at 
Cornerstone Cohousing.

But … what if a unit owner wants to install a skylight over his/her living 
room?  Then s/he should get permission for doing the work, and the association 
should receive, review and approve the “plans” (technical drawings), and also 
approve the licensed contractor who will build it.  All this oversight is 
entirely appropriate for protection of the communally owned envelope.  Needless 
to say, the unit owner will be paying for all this.

But … who owns the skylight?  Can the owner remove it, and take it with him/her 
when s/he goes?  The short answer is: No.  Like the rest of the roof, it now 
belongs to the community.  And since the community will, and does, own it, it 
probably makes sense for the community to commission the work in the first 
place — at the owner’s direction, and with the understanding that all costs 
will be reimbursed by the owner.

And … what if it doesn’t work?  What if the skylight leaks, and drips water 
into the community dining room below the unit.  Whose problem is that?  The 
strict legal answer is:  The association’s.  This is because the association 
approved the work, and owns the result — despite the fact that the association 
was reimbursed by the unit owner for all the costs.

Don’t like this?  Well, consider the alternative:  If the unit owner “owns” the 
skylight, then maybe over time, many bits and pieces of the envelope are 
“owned” by miscellaneous units — a skylight here, a fireplace flue there, a 
passive solar collector on the south, an extra window somewhere else.  And ten 
years later, when the leaks appear around the skylight, should that be blamed 
on the owner’s skylight, or on the association’s deteriorating roofing and 

My personal view is that sliced-and-diced ownership of the envelope is a 
mistake.  If the association is uncomfortable with all the implications of risk 
and future liability that attend remodeling, then the association may want to 
deny initiatives that compromise the simplicity and integrity of the envelope.

R Philip Dowds AIA
Cornerstone Village Cohousing
Cambridge, MA

On Feb 17, 2014, at 9:29 AM, Diana Carroll <dianaecarroll [at]> wrote:

> Hey all, has anyone dealt with this situation?
> We are structured as a condominium in which individual homeowners own their
> walls inward, and the studs out are common property.
> We want to allow owners to make exterior modifications to their buildings,
> such as decks, ramps, skylights, etc. But we want the homeowner, not the
> community, to be responsible for the maintenance of the structure, as well
> as to assume liability for any issues the modification may cause...e.g.
> damage to exterior walls from a leaking skylight, someone getting injured
> on an poorly maintained deck, etc.
> We've had this policy in place all along, and it is not controversial, but
> until just recently no one has actually done anything with it.  Now we have
> our first request, so we need to figure out how to make it happen.
> As a trustee my concern is primarily with what happens when the current
> owner sells and a new owner moves in.  I want to make sure that they remain
> legally liable for maintenance of the modification that extends into common
> area.
> So, has anyone else solved this?  In the case of a ramp or deck or other
> projection into common space I was wondering if perhaps an easement is the
> right solution.  But what about a sky light or similar?
> Note our question isn't about policy...we have already consensed on the
> principle...but about legal implementation.
> Thanks for any insight.
> Diana for Mosaic Commons in central MA
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