Vail law: ‘Elements’ of condominium ownership |

Vail law: ‘Elements’ of condominium ownership

Rohn Robbins
Vail, CO Colorado

VAIL, Colorado “-If you own ” or want to own ” a condominium in the Vail Valley, what is it that you own or one day hope to own? Generally speaking, you own air.

“That’s what I own?” you ask. “That’s what I scrimped and saved and worked my butt off for? Air?”

In a word, yes.

Condominium associations (also known as homeowners’ associations) are generally nonprofit corporations formed for the purpose of managing the condominiums. The key documents which form the skeleton of the association are the declaration, the bylaws and the condominium map.

The map, as you might expect, is a pictorial representation of the condominium project as a whole and the parts or “elements” into which the project is divided. The declaration is, in essence, the base contract under which the association will operate and to which the association members will be bound. It is the “declaration,” or formal pronouncement of the covenants, conditions and restrictions which bind the owners (or members) of the community interest community. The bylaws spell out the regulations, ordinances, rules or “laws” adopted by an association or corporation for its governance.

With the foregoing in mind, an individual condominium (or unit) may be defined as an individual air space consisting of an enclosed room or rooms occupying all or part of a floor or floors in the building in which the space is located. Each individual space is depicted on the condominium map and identified with a number.

Generally, the boundaries of each individual space are shown on the condominium map by heavy lines along the walls, floors and ceilings which mark the perimeter boundaries of the individual space. The exact boundaries of an individual space are usually the interior surfaces of the walls, floors and ceilings which mark the perimeter boundaries and, where found along such walls, floors and ceilings, the interior surfaces of built-in fireplaces, windows and doors in their closed position. The individual space includes both the portions of the building in which the condominium is located so described and the air space so encompassed.

Essentially, you own the airspace between the inner walls, floors and ceilings. You do not own that portion of the building or its structure which keeps the building standing up.

You do. Sort of.

The other aspects of condominiums are the common elements, which may be divided into “general common elements” and “limited common elements.” Both general common elements and limited common elements, as will be discussed in just a sec, are both subspecies of the broader category of “common elements”.

The common elements of a condominium project are often defined as all portions of the property except the units. The common elements are collectively owned by all the owners and consist of general and limited common elements.

Those elements may, in turn, be defined as “all tangible physical properties of the project except limited common elements and the units.” Although this is sounding a little like an Escher painting looks, bear with me ” the circular definitions will be finished with just a final step.

Limited elements means “those parts of the common elements which are either limited to or reserved in the declaration, on the map or by action of the association, for the exclusive use of a particular owner of a unit or are limited to and reserved for the common use of more than one but fewer than all owners.”

Let’s add up the score here. A condominium unit consists of the air between the inner walls, floor and ceiling. The common elements are those things ” not units – which are owned collectively (and not divisibly) by all the owners. There are two types of common elements: General, which all the owners own and all the owners may use, and limited, which all the owners own but only one (or some) may use. A typical limited common element is a balcony or patio attached to a particular unit. Assigned parking spaces are also often limited common elements ” owned by all, but reserved for the use of some.

While the foregoing is the most common type of condominium ownership, there sometimes are exceptions. You may occasionally come across a townhome-type complex where patios or other small parcels of land immediately surrounding the living space actually belong to ” and are owned by ” each condominium. But let’s not go there. The elements remain the same, as do the concepts for peaceable, collective living. Ah, to breathe the not-so-free air of that treasure which is yours!

Rohn K. Robbins is an attorney licensed before the Bars of Colorado and California who practices in the Vail Valley. His practice areas include: business and commercial transactions, real estate and development, homeowner’s associations, family law and divorce and civil litigation. He may be heard on Wednesday nights at 7 p.m. on KZYR radio (97.7 FM) as host of “Community Focus.” Robbins may be reached at 970-926-4461 or at his e-mail address:

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