By Mariano E. Zunino Siri
WHEN you buy an apartment or unit which is part of a complex, you are also buying a quota or percentage of the whole site.
You are buying a property that belongs to a Horizontal Division, and every owner has the right to use the common areas, and is obligated to contribute to the maintenance of these areas, according to his percentage.
This is regulated by the Horizontal Division Law (or Horizontal Division Act). The Law says:
“An assessment quota shall be allocated to every unit in relation to the value of the building and expressed as a percentage of said value.
“Said quota shall serve as a coefficient to determine individual unit shares in the expenses and benefits of the community…”
And also: “Individual unit owners can freely dispose of their estate, provided constituent elements are not separated and transferred enjoyment does not affect the obligations arising out of this ownership system.”
When the developer builds a complex, he normally grants a Deed of New Work, stating that on the plot there will be a development (once the municipal licence or building licence is granted).
If the development is divided into different units, then the Deed may also include a Horizontal Division.
The developer later sells units to different buyers, which means that instead of one owner, there will be many of them composing the community of owners (comunidad de propietarios).
According to the Law: “The declaration of ownership of individual units in a multiple-unit building (“Deed of Horizontal Division” or “Título Constitutivo”) will describe each unit, in addition to the building as a whole, and each unit shall be correlatively numbered including its size, boundaries, floor where it is located and such appurtenances as garage space, attic or basement. The same document will establish the assessment quota corresponding to each unit as stated, either by the sole owner of the building at the time sale of units was initiated or by agreement of all existing unit owners…”
There would be two types of rights of the owners: full ownership on the unit bought (apartment) and participation within the common areas (stairs, lifts, alleys, gardens) and the contribution to their maintenance (obligation). The full ownership right has limits, as the Law says:
“Owners of individual units may modify the architect elements, installations or services of their unit, notifying the community representative provided such work does not alter the safety of the building, its overall structure, its external appearance or condition, or prejudice the rights of another unit owner.”
Summarising: owners of an apartment have the right to use their property freely, vote in the Annual General Meeting of the community of owners and use the common areas.
But, at the same time, they have duties. Among them is the contribution to the maintenance of the common areas (periodical payment fee to the community of owners) and the respect of such common areas.
The rules of the community of owners are regulated by its Statutes and the Law, which includes not only the rights and obligations of the owners but also the way to govern the community: President, Vice-President, Secretary, Administrator.
But this exceeds the contents of this article. In future columns, I will return to this matter.