Riddle Me This: When Can A House Never Be A Home?

A townhouse in Florida is a unit in a building with one or more floors located on a parcel of land in which fee simple title to the land is conveyed with each unit. The unit is like a slice of bread in a loaf. It differs from a condominium, although often they look exactly alike. A townhouse is most often documented under Chapter 720 of the Florida Statutes. A condominium normally has no land conveyed with a specific unit and is documented under Chapter 718, a heavier and much more complicated ownership structure. In fact, I have said in this space before that generally a condominium with four or six units, and usually even ten or twelve units, is entirely too small to justify the formality involved in the operation of a condominium. That condo is so small that it’s difficult to pay a professional to run the association, and at the same time so complicated that only a professional should do it.

Townhouses are done with much less formality, but unfortunately often very little thought. Developers sometimes intentionally omit to draft a townhome declaration carefully because they’d have to pay a lawyer, and the lawyer would ask lots of questions.

There are examples close by. I have one in mind in which the developer did not create an association, and there are no restrictions at all. The owner of a unit has no control over the maintenance, appearance, or use, of his neighbor’s property. There are people who will say that is wonderful. I assure you it is not.

The owner of Unit B, in a six unit building, cannot force Unit A or C to maintain the roof or the exterior. When the roof over Unit A leaks, Unit B often gets wet. When Unit B gets mold or is just miserable to live in because adjacent units are not maintained, there is nothing an owner who takes the building seriously can do to force his neighbor to pay attention to the building, or even to his own unit.

Imagine the unimaginable. The neighbor has visitors with five diesel trucks that try to park at one townhouse. The neighbor has five big dogs that go poop in the yard. The neighbor has children who leave their toys everywhere.

We who deal in real estate every day understand that the unusual will always happen somewhere. We often don’t have to imagine unthinkable things, because they actually happen regularly. Our legal history in America is to respect private property ownership, but our trend is to force people to live closer and closer together. Our experience is that the closer people live together, the more they need rules. The only way the same rules can apply to everybody is by reducing them to writing.

Realtors who are interested in promoting good investments should know that the quality of the documents in a multi-unit building is really more important than the quality of a unit’s construction. Often the construction of buildings can be changed or upgraded. Owners will never agree to additional restrictions after units have been sold.

Local governments should have minimum standards for subdivision documents. Those standards should maintain the value of its parcels. The smaller the parcel, the more important the details of those documents.

As soon as it’s no longer new, a unit in a building that has no enforceable maintenance requirements will usually be miserable to live in, and its value as an investment will be severely diminished.