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Remodeling condominiums could require association approval

Civil codes in California regulate the interactions between condominium owners and homeowner associations. One source of confusion for owners is the level of autonomy and privacy that they have when making changes or repairs inside their homes. The written Condominium Plan specific to each community designates exactly where common and personal spaces begin. In general, the unit owner has control of the space bounded by the surfaces of walls, floors and ceilings.

This designation, however, does not include the drywall and elements within load-bearing walls. Those building components are common areas and fall under the direction of association management. What happens within one wall of an attached unit could produce undesired results for a neighbor. For example, inferior plumbing or electrical work could cause damage for neighbors who had nothing to do with hiring an inexperienced or unlicensed contractor.

An owner of a unit who needs repairs or desires to remodel should consult the homeowner association before initiating a project. The community as a whole has an interest in ensuring that alterations to common areas meet building codes and that contractors have licenses and liability insurance. Civil Code 4760 subjects some interior modifications to association review, and Civil Code 4765 grants unit owners the right to a "fair, reasonable and expeditious" review process.

A person who believes that an association treated a request unfairly could talk to a lawyer about how to resolve the problem. An attorney familiar with real estate law could advise the person about issues such as a neighbor dispute or an HOA dispute after examining association rules. To defend a client's position, the lawyer could engage the other party in negotiations to reach a settlement.

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