What are Limited Common Elements? Part Two

Limited common elements: spaces or things? “Limited common elements” can be spaces or things. Parking spots are an example of “spaces” that are frequently defined as “limited common elements” in an association’s Governing Documents. Parking spaces are essentially blocks of air surrounded by common elements and lines drawn on pavement. In most cases, the boundary of the limited common element is the surface of the pavement, and not the pavement itself. Similarly, unless your Declaration says otherwise, limited common element balconies and patios are spaces surrounded by common element building components. Most Declarations don’t specify the boundaries of limited common elements. In that case, we will most often apply the boundary of a unit. Thus the boundary of a limited common element balcony is usually the interior of the unfinished surfaces around it. The structure of a balcony, and its handrail, are not a part of the limited common element space. Windows and doors are examples of things (building components) that can be “limited common elements.” Unless the Declaration specifically provides otherwise, every part of the building components (wires, conduits, windows, etc.) described in RCW 64.34.201(2) and (4) are part of the limited common elements. The Declaration could provide more things be allocated as limited common elements. Handrails serving decks, and even deck coatings and deck structures could be specifically allocated in the Declaration as limited common elements, but this cannot be done by rule or regulation. Assessments for the repair, maintenance, and replacement of limited common elements The exclusive right to use a limited common element is not the same as an obligation to pay for maintenance and repair of the limited common element. In most Declarations, repair costs for limited common elements are a common expense for the association, because repair costs are not specifically assigned as permitted by RCW 64.34.360(3). Some Declarations may require the owners of assigned units to pay for expenses incurred to repair, maintain, or replace limited common elements. (See Chapter 23, “Cost Allocation: How Are Costs Allocated among Owners?”) Because limited common elements are a subset of common elements, Declarations may impose on individual unit owners assessments for expenses related to the upkeep of limited common elements. Declarations may also require all expenses incurred to repair, maintain, or replace limited common elements to be assessed as expenses that only benefit some owners. The assessments must be imposed in accordance with the terms specified in the association’s Declaration. The Board may have the authority to undertake repairs to and replacement of limited common elements, then bill owners for the costs, but only if this is specified in the Declaration. Associations may not normally undertake repairs, maintenance, or replacement of building components located within the unit boundaries since these are not “common elements” or “limited common elements.” Expenses related to the upkeep of these items are the sole responsibility of the individual unit owner. Building components that are outside the unit boundary, and not defined as limited common elements, will be assessed as a common expense. No Washington court has addressed this specific question, but case law from other states provides some insight into the reasoning that may be applied. In Cedar Cove Efficiency, the court held that an association was “obligated to provide repair and maintenance [to doors and balconies] as the board may deem appropriate” when the declaration was inconsistent with respect to whether doors and balconies were “limited common elements” or fixtures within the vertical boundaries of a unit. Since the Governing Documents did not specify how expenses for limited common elements would be assessed and limited common elements constituted a subset of common elements, the court held that the association had the authority to assess all owners for the costs of repairs to balconies that it deemed necessary to the structural integrity of the building. Feel free to leave a comment or contact us directly if you have questions.