Real Estate Q&A: Condo Parking Space Ownership

Real estate investor and Zillow Blog contributor Leonard Baron answers questions from readers regarding buying, selling and investing. Have a question? Send it to Leonard@ProfessorBaron.com.

Hi Leonard — I have a situation with my condominium association. I’ve owned the condo for more than 10 years. Today the condominium association manager showed me a map in the bylaws about parking spaces, which shows I own different spaces than the ones I’ve been using for 10 years. Is there a common law protecting me since I have used these spaces since I bought the property? The prior owner of my condominium unit also used these exact spaces for about 10 years. Any guidance is appreciated! Ruiming L., CT

Hi Ruiming — Sorry to hear about this issue. I’ve seen similar situations before. This might not be an easy one to resolve — and things might not go your way.

Let me first describe what every buyer of a unit in a common interest development should do before they purchase it to protect themselves when parking spaces come along with their property.

Deeded parking spaces

Many common interest developments’ homeowners associations (HOAs) have a “condominium map” that shows what parking spaces are deeded to each unit. You should also be able to look at the title documents recorded on the property to verify what spaces go with your property. Your title insurance agent should be able to help you sort out these issues, and review the condominium map and recorded documents so you are more comfortable with your purchase.

If those title documents confirm spaces are deeded to your unit, you should also try to get a title insurance policy that includes those spaces. Title insurance may not be available, and you will pay extra, but it’s probably worth the money.

HOA-controlled parking spaces

Sometimes the developer will just assign parking spaces to the units but the spaces are not deeded to any particular unit. There should be a contract of some sort that describes who gets what spaces. The governing documents — called Covenants, Conditions and Restrictions (CC&Rs) — may retain the rights for the HOA board to change what spaces each unit gets.

If this is the case, you need to ask the board in writing — before you purchase — how this process works and what rights you have to which spaces. You need to know what you are getting, and not just hope things will go well. You might want to get a lawyer involved to review your rights and give you an opinion in a case like this.

Worst case scenario

What if there is no condominium map, or no good written guidance on who gets what spaces? Or what if the original developer had terrible condominium governing documents, or there is a dispute over parking spaces with other owners? In any of these cases — all of which you need to know about before you buy the property — you need to decide if you want to purchase a property where you could lose your parking rights and/or get in a multi-year legal battle over spaces. (Hint: It’s not worth it!)

Now, back to your question. Unless you have something in writing that differs from the condominium map or the CC&Rs, you’re probably out of luck. You should try to work with the HOA first to amicably resolve the issue satisfactorily for all parties. You’ll probably need to hire a lawyer, and it is going to be expensive to get the best outcome for you.

One last thought: In some states, you might have a potential “adverse possession” claim to get ownership. However, in Connecticut, it’s 15 years to adversely possess real property, and the prior owner’s use probably doesn’t help your case.

This is a good lesson for anyone buying a condominium. These issues are rare, but they do occur. Buyers need to do the proper research and due diligence to protect themselves before they move forward with a purchase in a common interest development.

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Note: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of Zillow.

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