The Condo as Legal Entity Foundations & Fundamentals

In South Africa, it’s called a “sectional title.” In Quebec, it’s a copropriété divise or “divided co-property.” In Italy, they call it “condominio,” derived from Latin. Regardless of location, a condominium—commonly referred to as “condo”—is generally defined as a form of housing and other “real property” identified as a parcel of real estate that is individually owned among a collective.

“Condominium form of ownership is quite common outside the United States,” says White Plains-based Attorney Marshall S. Schiff. Stateside, the concentration of condominiums occurs in the larger cities or more populated regions, explains David Tane, an attorney and partner with the New York-based law firm of Tane Waterman & Wurtzel, P.C.

“Since New York has more co-ops than any other place in the country, I would say that condos are more prevalent in Florida, Texas and California,” says Tane. “Basically, where the co-op entity is virtually unknown is where you will see the highest concentration of condos.”

So whether it was a great, great, great grandparent or a new friend, everyone knows somebody that lives or has lived in a condominium. Condo properties can be built high toward the sky or spread out across a bucolic expanse. But for many, residents included, the history of the industry as well as governing practices is not often discussed, which often leaves more questions than answers.

According to Condominium Homeownership in the United States: A Selected Annotated Bibliography of Legal Sources(Law Library Journal), there are records dating back to Babylon (present day Iraq) indicating that residential buildings were sold as separate units. Centuries later in Europe, shared housing was also gaining traction. “This ownership of floors of houses, and even rooms, in the hand of different persons was common in various parts of Europe,” the journal notes.

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