The Malta Independent 28 January 2023, Saturday
View E-Paper

Condominium pandemonium

Mark Said Sunday, 22 January 2023, 09:27 Last update: about 7 days ago

We have finally heard the long-awaited good news. The conflicts and problems encountered by residents who live in apartment blocks will be addressed through a review of the Condominium law. The government, together with the Association of Maltese Developers, the MDA, will analyse the consultation process so that the law is an effective tool for proper administration. The law that came into force 21 years ago will be amended so that even in the event that there is no contract that specifies the obligations of the residents, the situation will be harmonious.

The need has long been felt for the Condominium law to be revised to properly address modern-day situations so that the common parts inside apartment blocks are better regulated. Actually, the consultation process had been launched way back in February of 2021. A new law was supposed to have been enacted by the end of that year but it was not to be. By law, a block of more than three units should appoint an administrator to take care of the common areas. Society and residential communities continue to rapidly change with time in Malta and condominium problems continue to crop up even with the most stupid or trivial of issues. Availability of land in Malta is limited and therefore a vertical extension of buildings will continue. It is not very healthy for people living in the same community or block to end up in litigation. Perhaps the time has come to consider legislating for compulsory mediation.

Condominium associations are made up of a collection of ordinary people and therefore are equally susceptible to the entirety of human flaws that any of us are capable of possessing. Greed, power, corruption, dishonesty, apathy, ignorance, discrimination, fraud and pride are just to name a few. Such standard human faults often easily invade and infect every association, as well as the population at large. Just take a look at government and political parties today to see evidence of these faults and foibles. They are often inevitable even in the most well-intentioned of people.

For starters, all condominium associations are required to have an administrator agreed upon by the majority of unit owners. These administrators’ only qualifications are that they are up to date on their dues and own a unit within the association. There is no requirement for experience or industry knowledge or awareness. Often, these administrative roles are volunteer positions and carry out unpaid work while at it, often a thankless and scrutinised position for which they have no experience. Someone must govern, and so whomever volunteers, good or bad, these people are the ones who are going to run the show. Personally, I have never understood why anyone in their right mind would want to take up that role. On top of this quagmire is that most of the time, even with an administrator or administrative company, it means that there is yet another collection of individuals who can bring all of the frailties of the human condition to bear on the association, affecting its operation and financial decision-making.

This adds yet another layer of dysfunction and disaffection to an already problematic environment. And on top of all this, is a large, codified body of condominium law that is supposed to be adhered to, but is largely ignored with impunity by many associations every day. Associations get away with flaunting and violating the state law simply because they can. There is no “condo police” investigating or ensuring that these associations abide by the law and the majority of the people affected by the laws are in fact the property owners themselves. This is the irony, given that in-house administrators are also property owners, who may think they benefit from shortcutting the legislation that is in place. They are not going to call the authorities on themselves, are they? The one uninformed party that is adversely affected by these failures is the prospective buyer.

Condo living can be a fantastic experience and comes with the benefits of great location, resort-friendly amenities, comfort and convenience. It could be an excellent option if you want to own your home but have a busy schedule. At the other extreme, though, condo living can come with all kinds of surprises, sometimes verging on pandemonium. The situation can become complicated as short-term rentals have gained in popularity over the past years. Many owners have begun offering their condo units for short-term rentals either on their own or through online booking sites. While short-term rentals create cash flow for unit owners, the risks of liability exposure, damage to common areas and the safety of all residents are real concerns. Short-term rentals can sometimes lead to issues in condo communities, as people renting condos may be disruptive to other residents and may not follow the condo rules.

Thanks to neighbour disputes, crazy restrictions and incompetent administrators, condo dwellers are increasingly finding themselves boxed in. My blissful experience with condo ownership lasted for 13 years when my adjacent, overlying and underlying neighbours started changing too frequently. One of them installed hardwood floors. The very next day, I could hear somebody walking in high heels right from my master bedroom, through the living room, down the front hall and to the door. When another owner moved out and rented her condo to a dancer, she turned the unit into her full-time dance studio. It sounded like a jackhammer on your head.

As thousands of homebuyers flock to condos for the promise of affordable home ownership and carefree living, they are learning that life in a condominium is far different from the suburban houses where so many of us were raised. Never mind that owning a condo usually means sharing your walls, floors and ceilings with your neighbours. Maltese condos are rife with internal politics, neighbour infighting and power struggles stemming from the complicated network of condo administration, owners, investors, tenants and property managers.

I have seen some articles of associations governing what owners can and cannot do with their property spanning 70 pages. Disputes over issues such as pets, trash, noises and smells are escalating into epic and costly court battles. In condominia, the old adage that “good fences make good neighbours” no longer applies. It is pretty hard to have a fence when you have to walk by a problem neighbour just to get to the lift.

The condominia boom is not just reshaping our skylines, it is changing how we live. Are we Maltese, long accustomed to detached houses and backyards, ready for a world where being a happy condo dweller means accepting that we will have to give up some of our personal freedom and that our neighbours may always be too close for comfort? You have all the obligations of a homeowner and all the obligations of a tenant because condos are really a combination of the two.

Conflict is inevitable when so many people live so close together. As our government continues to limit the land available for development and Maltese continue to reject the suburbs in favour of urban living, things are likely to get worse before they get better, if they get better at all. Two decades into Malta’s condo boom, we are only now coming to terms with the fundamental ways the condo is changing how we live.

We need to start addressing the downside of shared living. If we do not get busy and start talking about what the issues are and what are some of the reasonable fixes, then everybody loses. Condo dwellers want to live the joys of condominium life, not the nightmare of it.

 

Dr Mark Said is an advocate

  • don't miss