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If you’re looking to buy or sell a condo in Halifax you’re sure to have a lot of questions. At Condo Nova we’re experts in helping our clients become market wise about Halifax condos and the local real estate market. Below is a list of commonly asked questions on topics like how owning a condominium is different than owning a house, or what fees or additional charges may be due upon closing. Review the FAQ section to become “Market Wise” faster!
If you have questions that are not answered in our FAQ, you can always call or email us. We’d be happy to help with any inquiries you may have about condos or the current real estate market in Halifax.
The Province enacted new rules on Sept. 1, 2011 that are designed to offer better consumer protection for those who own, or are thinking of buying, a condominium.
Among the new rules are limits on how much a developer can charge condo buyers who choose to move into their units before the condominium corporation is registered. This is designed to protect condo buyers from having to rent the unit they plan to buy for long periods of time. For the first six months developers will only be able to charge 0.75 percent of the net purchase price per month, an amount that decreases to 0.5 percent after six months, and then down to 0.25 percent after a year.
The new rules also require developers to provide prospective buyers with more complete and detailed information about the condo corporation’s budget, planned amenities and reserve fund studies. The rules establish Provincial Condominium Dispute Officers that will be responsible for helping resolve disputes between condo owners and condo corporations. The rules also increase a buyer’s “cooling off period” from five to 10 days.
Detailed information about the new rules can be found at:Access Nova Scotia.
The term “condominium” describes a type of property ownership rather than a type of property. Condominium can describe just about any variety of housing, whether townhouse, detached houses, or high rise apartments. What makes the condominium different is that owners agree to share in ownership of common property, while keeping ownership of living quarters as individuals. Thus, ownership of the individual unit is pretty much just like owning a house with all of its associated rights, privileges and maintenance costs, but the unit owner is also part of a collective ownership arrangement with its distinct rights, privileges, limitations, and costs.
The declaration essentially serves as “the constitution” of a condominium that describes in detail the function, powers and rights of the corporation, along with the obligations of the owners. The declaration, which should be provided to potential buyers along with other documentation, outlines the division of ownership within the condominium corporation. It defines the units and common elements and specifies the interest each owner has in the common elements. The declaration also establishes a legal relationship between owners and the corporation to manage the collective affair, and to allow the condominium corporation to levy fees.
The description includes diagrammatic representations, including land surveys and improvements; administrative by-laws, such as condo corporation governance, and control; and rules related to the safety, security and welfare of the owners and property, as well as pertaining to the use and enjoyment of common elements and units. When both the description and declaration are registered with the province, the condominium has been legally created under the law.
Common elements refers to all property within a condominium that has not been defined and set up by the declaration and description as part of the units. Along with owning the condo unit, the title holder also becomes a tenant-in-common with the other unit owners of the common elements. Unit owners may make reasonable use of the common elements subject to the condominium's declaration, by-laws and rules.
Please note that not all common elements are the same, as areas designated as common elements in one condominium might not be designated as so in another. For example, the distinction of whether the exterior walls of a unit are considered common elements differs by condominium.
Exclusive use common elements usually involve parking spaces and/or storage facilities that are designated for use by specific units within a project, but do not give unit owners title to the spaces. The granting of exclusive use common elements varies by condominium, and exclusive use common elements must be specified by the declaration.
The reserve fund is levied by the corporation according to its by-laws to be used or expended for major repair or replacement of common element assets such as roofs, elevators, building exteriors, parking facilities, corridors, hallways, sidewalks and landscaped areas. Reserve funds are collected as part of the common element fees paid by the unit owners. Reserve fund expenditures are restricted and cannot be used for other expenses such as routine maintenance.
Provincial regulations require condominiums with 10 or more units to conduct a comprehensive reserve fund study every 10 years, with updates to the studies conducted at five-year intervals or when significant changes occur to the condo corporation’s assets. While smaller complexes are not required to conduct the studies, many do so voluntarily as part of their planning processes, and regulations require that smaller corporations set aside 10 percent or more of their annual budget each year to be deposited into their reserve fund.
The reserve fund study includes both a physical analysis of the condominium’s components and systems, as well as a financial analysis of the corporation’s current reserve fund balance, its income and expenses, and expected rate of inflation and rates of return on invested funds within the reserve fund. The study recommends a schedule for repair, maintenance and replacement of components and systems, and recommends what annual contributions will be needed during subsequent years of the study period.
A special assessment is an additional payment or a levy that a condo board has to impose when unexpected shortfalls or unexpected expenditures occur in the budget, or when an expensive system (such as the boiler) has to be replaced and there is not enough money in the reserve fund to cover it. In order to be levied, a special assessment must be approved by owners owning 66.66 percent of the common elements. When a condominium is resold, the seller must disclose any existing or pending special assessments.
The estoppel certificate is a report on the financial health of the condominium corporation, which should be accompanied by the latest audited annual statement, a reserve fund summary, and confirmation of fire and public liability insurance coverage. The certificate includes such items as the monthly common expense amount, any arrears owed by the seller, potential legal proceedings, and other prescribed matters of importance.
The by-laws detail the scope and limitations of the corporation’s governing, regulating and administering the condominium; whereas the rules are designed to govern the use of the common elements and units so as to promote the safety, security and welfare of the owners and property, and the use and enjoyment of the common elements.
In Nova Scotia buyers must pay the Harmonized Sales Tax (HST) on newly built units, but not on previously owned units. HST may be charged on resale condos in cases where the previous owner aquired the unit primarily for business purposes (with the exception of long-term rental income). HST can also be charged if the previous owner claimed input tax credits for unit improvements, and, in some cases, if there have been substantial renovations.
Unit factor refers to the percentage of a condomium's commmon property a condo unit owner actually owns. Also known as "proportionate share," the unit factor is used to determine how much each unit owner will pay in monthly maintenance fees, and sometimes delineates condo corporation voting rights. The unit factor should be listed in the condominium's declaration, or in other governing documents.
Occupancy fees are sometimes charged by developers to cover costs between the time period of taking occupany of a newly built condo unit and the time of taking ownership (once the unit is officially registered). Occupancy fees are also known as "phantom rent."
A "conversion" condominium refers to a unit in a building that was previously used for something else, but has been, or will be, renovated for residential use and sold as a condominium unit. For example, many loft-style condo units were converted from former uses in commercial or industrial buildings. Apartment rental units can also be converted to condominium units.
Condominium corporations generally place “all risks” property insurance coverage on the units and common elements, and the premiums are apportioned to the unit owners and included in the condo fees. Prospective owners should determine the extent of policy coverage and any limitations or exclusions.
Unit owners are responsible for insuring the contents of their units, along with insurance to cover personal and occupiers’ liability.
Generally, attorneys for the buyer and seller adjust for taxes and any other charges at the time of closing, and the apportionment of payment between buyer and seller is usually dictated by the closing date.
Re-sale condo units already have an assessed value and tax basis, but a newly created condo unit will not receive its own assessment number until the following year. Thus, the property tax for a new individual unit in its first year is apportioned based on its square-footage share of the entire complex.
The Halifax Regional Municipality’s Property Tax Department advises prospective purchasers of new condos to be aware of all potential municipal tax implications of their purchase. While apportioning the payment of the annual property tax bill is an obvious charge that should be negotiated prior to closing, other fees that could be transferred to the new property owner if not paid by the previous owner are outstanding property tax bills, false alarm fines, and local improvement charges such as paving, sewer lines, water lines and curb and gutters, to name a few.
Thus, a prospective buyer should ensure that their attorney receives a tax certificate so that all charges are noted and apportionment of payment between the seller and buyer can be negotiated prior to the closing. A buyer should also inquire whether there are pending paving, sewer, water or sidewalk projects planned for the area, as “these community enhancements may create future bills” for the new property.
When 51 percent or more of the units of a new condominium are sold, unit owners take over responsibility of the condominiums from the declarant (developer) during the turnover meeting, during which a new board of directors is elected and the declarant provides the new board with a variety of documentation, including:
corporation seal and copies of declaration and by-laws;
any and all agreements entered into by the corporation;
all architectural, structural and survey plans;
warranties and guarantees for any equipment;
details of units sold, rented or remaining unsold;
and, financial statements and the reserve fund study.
Yes. When a condominium is rented, the owner is still responsible for the payment of common expenses and for tenant compliance with the by-laws and rules. The owner must notify the corporation that the unit is leased and provide it with the lessee’s name. A tenant of a condominium is subject to the same duties and obligations as the owner.
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