Common Elements v. Limited Common Elements v. Unit
One of the most challenging concepts to understand in community association living is the difference between Common Elements, Limited Common Elements and Units. The first step in understanding the difference between the three is to know that what elements fall into each category is different for each association. Illinois Statute defines each of these three parts of the community in general, however the association's Declaration will determine which elements fall into each category, for that particular association.
Unit: The Illinois Condominium Property Act defines "Unit" as a part of the property designed and intended for any type of independent use.
Common Elements: Those elements of the building or community that serve all of the Units, are common elements. Per the Condominium Property Act, the maintenance to the common elements and the related costs incurred are to be borne by the Association.
- Elements of the association that serve more than one Unit are part of the common elements.
- Even so, the use of certain common elements are limited to only certain units. Hence, they are known as limited common elements. The Illinois Condominium Property Act defines "limited common elements" as a portion of the common elements as being reserved for the use of certain units.
Limited Common Elements: Those elements which serve less than all of the Units.
- The Condominium Property Act also allows an Association's governing documents to provide that expenses related to maintain, repair and replace the limited common elements may be assessed back to the Owners who are benefitted by the use of the limited common elements.
- An Association's declaration may provide that the Board has the discretion to assess costs incurred to maintain the limited common elements back to the Owners who are benefitted by the use of the limited common elements. For this reason, the cost to maintain elements that serve a Unit or less than all of the Units can be assessed back only to the Owners who are benefitted by that element.
The Declaration should define these terms, as well and may even outline those elements of the building or community which are included in each category. To assist in determining which category an element falls into, you can ask the following questions:
1. Is the element in question part of the Unit or a Common Element?
2. If it is a Common Element: Does it serve less than all of the units? If so, it is a Limited Common Element.
3. If it is a Limited Common Element: What does the Declaration say in regard to charging back the related costs of maintenance, repair and replacement to the Owners who are benefitted by that element?
Of course it is always wise to confirm responsibility with the Association's legal counsel. Any legal opinion which the Board relies on should be kept in the Association's books and records, so that should a Board decision be challenged, the Board will be insulated from a claim that it breached its fiduciary obligation.