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.

“There are many forms of common interest ownership throughout the world,” says Attorney Lisa A. Magill, a shareholder with the Fort Lauderdale-based law firm of Becker & Poliakoff. “You may not see condominiums in rural areas, but you’ll find them anywhere there is a high concentration of people and demand for housing in limited space. One of our firm’s founders consulted with post-communist countries on the transfer of housing from public to private ownership. Dubai reportedly has some of the most expensive and beautiful condominiums in the world, and China reportedly has something like over 60 million unoccupied condominiums.”

Historical Reference

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.

But if there was a first condo craze, it happened in the French city of Rennes. In 1720, a catastrophic fire destroyed most of the city, which forced inhabitants to rebuild build under a system of wider streets and taller, multifamily buildings. The experiment was so successful that the “condominium” system was widely adopted, notes the journal.

The Current Condo Movement

Whether it was a great, great, great grandparent or a new friend, everyone—Floridians especially—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 even for longtime condo-dwellers, the history of the industry and its governing practices are obscure, which often leaves more questions than answers. In Florida, the state fills in a number of blanks.

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