Re: Exterior modifications
From: Sharon Villines (
Date: Tue, 18 Feb 2014 06:35:10 -0800 (PST)
On Feb 17, 2014, at 10:51 AM, Diana Carroll <dianaecarroll [at]> 

> I was thinking it would be more legally enforceable to have a document for
> each agreed upon modification.  I imagine 20 years down the road, after
> three resales, a new owner might have no idea what aspects of their
> property are "modifications" vs. original.  Worst case, imagine a home is
> foreclosed on, and now a *bank* is the owner...I need a way to say to the
> bank "The deck on unit 42 is collapsing, you need to fix it."

In addition to Philip's points about ownership & the exterior envelope, there 
are other issues. If someone builds a deck over an area that is a Common 
Element, thus converting it to a Limited Common Space, that should also be 
recorded as well. All exterior modifications should be reviewed according to a 
policy that is binding. Who reviews the design? Who gets the building permits 
or ensured that they were obtained? Who maintains the deck? According to what 
standards? Are safe design standards maintained? Does it meet the standards of 
your liability insurance? Or the owner's?

It has to be in writing. People move in and out and memories change. People who 
are good friends this year might not be speaking to each other in 10. People 
make different assumptions about what was agreed to and what was hoped for.

In 2000, many of us bristled at the thought of the "condo commandos" who 
enforced bylaws and levied fines. Cringed at condos that were designed cookie 
cutter style with rules for what could be stored or used on a balcony.

In 2014, I understand that those designs and rules would have made our lives 
much, much easier. We spend hours and hours and days and days discussing what 
to do with people who use their exterior spaces like basements, not personal 
seating areas. Debating what is a Limited Common Element and what is not. 
Objecting to an owner changing an exterior light fixtures to a design that is 
not in keeping with the architecture. "It's just a light. Who cares? It's good 
because we don't have to pay for it." 

Since like most cohousing communities we have many unit styles all mixed up 
together, each case is unique. In the end, when the complexity affects more 
than our desire not to be cookie cutter, it isn't worth the number of 
individual decisions that have to be made.

My advice is to contact the local chapter of the Community Associations 
Institute and discuss these issues with people who have experienced similar 
situations and can share their stories of problems and repercussions. They are 
likely to be more rigid and paranoid than you might want to be but it will give 
you a better sense of what the local laws require and assume.

For example, the condo law in DC is written with many default positions -- 
"Unless otherwise stated in the Bylaws, the owner is responsible for this and 
the association for this." If you don't have clear documents, you will be 
subject to those laws. I think it was 5 or 6 years in before we even read 
them!!!! Because we were cohousing and we were going to do things our way. 
We've never had a problem that invoked a condo law default but there are 
several places where owners could require things we don't do.

Sharon Villines, Takoma Village Cohousing, Washington DC
"I arise in the morning torn between a desire to improve the world and a desire 
to enjoy the world. This makes it hard to plan the day.” ― E.B. White

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