What are Limited Common Elements? Part One

Under the New Act (RCW 64.34 et seq., Washington's Condominium Act) and Old Act (RCW 64.32 et seq., the Horizontal Property Regimes Act), limited common elements or areas are defined as a subset of common elements or areas. Specifically, limited common elements are the portion of common elements (owned by everyone) that are designated in the Declaration for use by fewer than all units. The New Act also defines certain building components as “limited common elements,” but permits the Declaration to modify this and include those components as “common elements” or as part of the unit. Common elements versus limited common elements Limited common elements are a subset of common elements. Limited common elements are allocated, in the declaration or under RCW 64.34.204(2) or (4), “for the exclusive use of one or more but fewer than all of the units.” In other words, limited common elements are parts of the common elements that serve only one or some units. Except as provided by the Declaration, RCW 64.34.204(2) provides that all chutes, flues, ducts, wires, conduits, bearing walls, bearing columns, and other fixtures serving only one unit, and lying “partially within and partially outside the designated boundaries of a unit,” shall be limited common elements. (We don’t know why “pipes” are not listed, but believe water and drain pipes are included in this list.) Portions of the building components serving a single unit are designated as limited common elements allocated solely to the unit they serve, while portions of the building components serving two or more units or “any portion of the common elements” are designated as common elements. RCW 64.34.204(4) further provides that all shutters, awnings, window boxes, doorsteps, stoops, porches, balconies, patios, and all exterior doors and windows or other fixtures that are designed to “serve a single unit” but are not located within the boundaries of the unit shall be limited common elements allocated exclusively to the unit they serve. Because limited common elements are a subset of common elements, a Declaration stating that windows and doors are common elements does not conflict with RCW 64.34.204(4). If a New Act Declaration is otherwise silent about windows and doors, they are limited common elements assigned to the unit they serve. Except for those limited common elements defined in RCW 64.34.204(2) and (4), the Declaration is required to specify the limited common elements and the units to which all limited common elements are allocated. An association is permitted to modify its existing definition of “limited common elements” only to the extent that every owner giving up a limited common element, or being assigned a limited common element, agrees. The Old Act does not specify that any building components are limited common elements. “Common areas and facilities” are defined to include “all other parts of the property necessary or convenient to its existence, maintenance and safety or normally in common use.” Under the Old Act, everything outside the unit boundary is a common element, and each Declaration may specify some common elements to be limited common elements. Come back Wednesday for Part Two of this article!