OWNER DID NOT HAVE TO SHARE IN COSTS TO RENOVATE LIMITED COMMON AREAS FOR OTHERS’ EXCLUSIVE USE

Published on: March 4, 2019

234 Beacon Street Condominium Trust (association) governed the 234 Beacon Street Condominium in Boston, Massachusetts.  Ronen Adato owned a unit in the condominium.

The nine-unit residential structure was separated from a trash room by a passageway.  Attached to the trash room was a garage containing six bays for cars and adjacent storage areas.  The parking bays were enclosed by doors.  There was no usable floor space in the garage that was not covered by the parking bays and the storage areas.

The condominium master deed (master deed) dedicated the parking bays and storage areas to the exclusive use of six units.  Adato’s unit was not among those six units.  The trash room shared a wall with the garage, and all owners could use the trash room.

The association’s board of trustees (board) discovered a sagging roof beam in the garage that needed repair or replacement.  In 2015, the board voted to knock down the garage entirely and replace it and to renovate the trash room.  The board levied a $400,140 assessment to cover the renovation costs.

Under the master deed, Adato’s unit was allocated a 6.748% share of the association’s common expenses.  However, the board charged Adato for only about 2% of the total renovation costs.  Nonetheless, Adato felt that was too much.  Adato sued the association, seeking a declaratory judgment (judicial determination of the parties’ legal rights) that he was not required to pay any assessment for reconstruction of a garage that he had no right to use.  The trial court granted judgment in Adato’s favor.

The association appealed, arguing the garage was part of the common area for which all owners were obligated to share in the renovation costs.  However, the master deed designated the garage parking and storage areas as limited common areas for the exclusive use of particular units.  It also made costs associated with such limited common areas the sole responsibility of the unit owners holding the exclusive rights.

The association urged that the entire garage structure was part of the common areas for which all owners were responsible for sharing, while only the interior spaces occupied by the assigned parking and storage areas were the limited common areas for which the six-unit owners with garage assignments were solely responsible.  The appeals court found such interpretation was inconsistent with the nature of the garage owners’ exclusive rights.

The master deed granted six owners exclusive rights to use the parking and storage areas “in the garage.”  Because the exclusive use rights specifically referred to indoor, enclosed parking, the appeals court determined that the limited common areas were comprised not only of the floor underneath the parking spaces, but also the surrounding garage structure.

The association complained that the master deed’s reference to “in the garage” was meant only to determine the location of the assigned parking spaces compared to the other outdoor parking.  The appeals court, however, found that its interpretation was the only approach which gave effect to all of the master deed’s words.

The association argued that owners with garage assignments were responsible only for the garage interior because the master deed’s maintenance section specified that unit owners were responsible for the maintenance and repair of the interior of their respective units and exclusive areas.  The appeals court determined that the term “interior” qualified only units and not exclusive areas.  Moreover, it found that reading such section as a limitation on owners’ financial responsibility would be inconsistent with the references to other limited common areas, such as outdoor parking, which has no “interior” space.  The appeals court stated that it would be inappropriate to find that the owner who had exclusive use of an outdoor parking space had no financial responsibility for such parking area simply because it had no “interior” space.

The appeals court did agree with the association on one point.  Since some of the renovation costs related to the trash room, which all owners use, there was no reason that Adato should avoid a share of the costs associated with renovating the trash room.  Accordingly, the portion of the trial court’s judgment relating to costs associated with the trash room was stricken, and the remainder was affirmed.  The parties or, if necessary, the trial court must decide how to apportion the renovation costs between the trash room and the garage.

For a copy of the Decision [click here].

If you have any questions regarding this article, please contact Mark Einhorn at meinhorn@meeb.com or 781-849-3650.